Over the last five years, the sustainable energy technology company ClimateWell has been working on a component called CoolStore. “It looks like a glass tube, but what this glass tube can do is pretty special,” says Per Olofsson, CEO of ClimateWell. “It captures solar energy, which is stored inside the component and then delivered when needed for both air conditioning and heating.”
CoolStore has no moving parts and is built using totally inert materials. It is designed for stable function and continuous operation over a period of 15 years. It works using ClimateWell’s patented triple state absorption technology, using a specially formulated salt to store the energy. Cooling efficiencies are typically 50-60 per cent and the energy storage capacity is high enough to store a whole day of solar irradiation.
“Now that we have this working component, we are looking to commercialise it into a number of different products,” says Olofsson. “This is where our work with iNSPiRe comes in, which has given us the opportunity to integrate this component into the construction elements of buildings.
One of iNSPiRe’s main methods for improving the energy efficiency of buildings in Europe will be to attach facades to the front of existing buildings, and the CoolStore component will be an integral part of these. The fact that the component is able to provide huge energy efficiency benefits without the need for any maintenance or operational staff working on them is one of the main positive aspects of its design, according to Olofsson. “Nobody wants to have to actively think about the insulation of their home,” he says. “You want to be able to sit back and not worry about it while it does its job, and CoolStore does just that.”
The real challenge faced by the iNSPiRe consortium is that it aims to work with existing building stock, rather than designing new buildings. “From an engineer’s point of view, it is very nice to be able to design a new building from scratch, using all the latest knowledge, technologies and materials,” says Olofsson. “However, what iNSPiRe is trying to do is actually a lot harder and, in the end, a lot more relevant to the reality we face in Europe. We need to improve the energy efficiency of the old buildings without tearing them down, as it is these buildings that consume the lion’s share of energy for heating and cooling.”
Other members within iNSPiRe include manufacturers of the construction elements such as the facades, a team working on the distribution of the heating and cooling provided by CoolStore in and out of the room, as well as another group making sure all of the elements are integrated in a seamless and intelligent way. Olofsson believes that it is this diversity of people within the consortium that is one of its main strengths. “It’s a great mix of people that will allow us to pursue our goals from every possible angle, making sure that we improve not only the energy efficiency of the buildings but also the comfort for the people who live in them.”
Testing of the first prototypes of the integrated CoolStore component will begin in 2014, after which they will be installed in the iNSPiRe model houses. “The model houses used are great in that they reflect the unfavourable properties of a lot of the buildings in Europe,” says Olofsson. “They have poor insulation, bad windows and require a lot of heating and cooling, so if we can improve these buildings to an acceptable level of efficiency then that represents a huge saving potential for the EU.”
iNSPiRe aims to cut the energy cost of buildings by 50 per cent, which is not a small number, but if it can be achieved would be a major breakthrough from both an economic and environmental perspective. “The bottom line is that there are many technologies available now that can really help to improve buildings, but they are no use if they are sitting in a warehouse or are only applicable for brand new state-of-the-art buildings,” says Olofsson. “What we want to do in iNSPiRe is to take cutting edge technology such as CoolStore and make it available for everyone, which I think is the way forward.”