New Generation Energy Efficient Heat Pumps for a Greener Environment
Aaron Patel was only 15 years old in 2007 when his path in life changed. Following his father’s illness, he took on the family trading business and transformed it two years later into an innovative technology company. At 30, he is at the head of a sustainable energy business with patented advanced thermal technology providing cheaper and more efficient heating and cooling systems in South East Asia and beyond.
“When I was 15, I did not have any ambition to become an entrepreneur,” Aaron said. “15 years ago it was not a cool thing to do, it was called being a businessman.” Instead, the young man focused on engineering and computer science. After his father fell ill, Aaron decided to support his family instead of going to university. He managed his study and the family trading business, which specialized in water-heating solar panel systems, until he graduated from high school, all the while thinking about his next move.
After graduating, he had other ideas than trading. “I found just trading boring,” he noted. He created iHandal in 2009 and went into the heat pump business, using his broad interest in technology. At that time, heat pumps technology was already available, but not widely used because heat pumps were not commercially viable in certain markets, in particular, because of the high cost of components, and poor technical efficiency in certain applications, Aaron explained.
iHandal started by trading heat pumps before Aaron realized that the products which were imported from western countries were not designed for Malaysia’s climate conditions and applications. In a tropical climate, heat pumps are used for very specific applications, domestic water heating or higher temperature industrial processes instead of lower temperature space heating. Aaron saw a gap in the market and launched into the design of heat pumps tailored for the local market. Grounding on the existing technology, iHandal developed a more efficient system for heat pumps, called Heatfuse.
Heatfuse Technology represents an evolution of heat pumps, able to replace inefficient boilers and chillers with a system able to work at very high temperatures. The technology allows heat pumps to be commercially viable because their efficiency translates into lower running costs, an energy saving solution. Before, Aaron said, heat pumps applied to low-temperature applications, for domestic hot water for example. However, iHandal’s thermal technology provides water as high as 140°C, which was a door opener to the industry sector for the company. It now leads in the food and beverage, healthcare, and pharmaceutical sectors, and also provides applications for agriculture, converting wasted heat from gas-run boilers to a renewable energy source through the Heatfuse Technology. “Our biggest market growth now is the industrial sector,” Aaron said.
“Doing more with Less”
iHandal’s core business is thermal energy efficiency. “When you talk about renewable energy, or green technology, people focus on two main areas,” Aaron explained. One is renewable energy, such as solar or wind-derived energy, to make cleaner energy to substitute what is already used. The second one, is energy efficiency, “how we do more with less instead of hoping for a quick fix, where we don’t want to make any compromises on the way we lead our lives.” iHandal focuses on energy efficiency and partners with both industries and individuals to create a better environment. “Doing more with less, that is our tag line,” he said, adding “we build our equipment to help our clients deal with their thermal energy efficiency in the way they heat and cool.”
iHandal has a unique business model, according to Aaron, providing a one-stop-shop. Most competitors are creating companies marketing technology from other manufacturers. To reduce their energy bills, clients usually have to go through three or four companies: the energy auditor, the consultant who will process the data from the audit, the product’s manufacturer, and the installer. iHandal provides the audit, the technology, the installation, and finances their projects. The company now works with utility companies, selling energy to clients at a cheaper rate because their technology is more efficient.
The company also works for the hospitality industry. “Our very first client was Tune Hotels, a budget hotel chain in South East Asia,” Aaron recalls. “After a couple of years growing organically, we secured the trust of international chains in South East Asia, such as the Hilton, Marriott, and the Four Seasons.”
iHandal has come back full circle to the residential sector and now applies its technology to individual homes, and has pilot projects in residential areas in Australia and Sweden.
In the early days of the company, Aaron went and registered a trademark. Branding is important, he said, as people want to have immediate recognition of a product, and an association with it. They associated the need to lower their energy bill with iHandal.
A patent was also filed several years ago for the Heatfuse Technology. The patent served in two ways, Aaron noted. It validated iHandal’s ability to manufacture its own equipment, and not copying someone else’s technology when the company worked with global clients. “It shows that you are providing something unique and valuable, it is almost like a mark of approval.” The patent also helped build the trust of investors.
Now established in 13 countries, with dealers in Europe and the United States, iHandal employs some 50 people, mainly in South East Asia. The company received a large investment and plans to expand its staff to at least 80 people by the end of 2022.
For the future, iHandal wants to concentrate on developing technology adding value to Heatfuse. The company is already providing more efficient, cheaper heating and cooling, and now wants to go one step further and design a last-mile efficiency technology solution. “It is not just how you produce energy, but how you consume it. You might have a very efficient system, but you could be wasting it if you don’t allocate it well,” Aaron said.
iHandal also focuses on certification to establish itself in the European and North American markets. Energy used to be cheap, but it is not the case any longer, and energy efficiency is always motivated by cost, not sustainability, Aaron noted. Higher prices of energy drive sustainability legislation. “People always say that this is the decade of sustainability,” he said, adding that with the growing awareness of the need for sustainable solutions, there is a big market opportunity in Europe and North America.