Growing environmental awareness, among consumers and industry alike, has triggered growing interest in the adoption of more environmentally friendly cooling and heating technologies. “Solar water heating for example involves converting sunlight into heat for water heating using a solar thermal collector,” notes EGO Portable project coordinator Dario Saggioro, managing director of Pleion, Italy. “These systems usually cost more to purchase and install than a conventional water heating system, though this can usually save you money in the long run.” Despite the clear economic and environmental benefits, harnessing the full potential of solar water heating in the residential sector has proven challenging. This is partly due to the fact that the heating and cooling sector is mostly decentralised. “The European heating and cooling sector includes over 120 million individual boilers, most of which are old and inefficient,” says Saggioro. “What we need to do is encourage millions of consumers to invest in improving their heating systems, by switching to renewable heat. This will be more effective than investing in a few large centralised projects.”
Hot water on demand
The EU-funded EGO Portable project has enabled Italian firm Pleion to further develop its FreeGO concept. The company believes the product, which uses solar power to deliver hot water anywhere, can empower consumers to be part of a more sustainable future. “Our goal is to bring to market a portable solar water heater that is easy to install with optimised energy and material performance,” adds Saggioro. “Unlike other solar water heater systems on the market today, it can be simply connected to the nearest water supply through a common, garden water hose.” Special stainless steel tubing becomes hot under sunlight, and after a few hours the device is ready to deliver hot water on demand. Temperature can also be adjusted. “The idea is that the device can be installed wherever the customer needs it,” says Saggioro.
Raising consumer awareness
The key aim of the EU project was to strengthen the firm’s market position, and to enable it to attract consumers directly. “We wanted to examine different sales channels so that we can effectively bring our innovation straight to new customers,” explains Saggioro. Internal studies were conducted to prioritise different markets. Field tests were also carried out to assess possible applications, such as in the garden or at a campsite. Following completion of the 4-month project, the company has been able to identify nine key market categories. “Based on the methodology we used, we were able to confirm that the caravan market is the most attractive sector for us to consider, followed by homeowners with gardens and swimming pools,” says Saggioro. The firm also identified surfers, populations with no access to electricity or other hot water sources and municipal swimming pool operators as potential users. The list also includes fitness and gym centres, car owners who want to wash their car, and pet owners. “Our business has traditionally focused on conventional sales and marketing methods like trade fairs and print advertising,” notes Saggioro. “Engaging directly with consumers however requires much more interaction and follow-up. What we’ve learned from this project is that we need to develop a dedicated Business to Consumer (B2C) online channel, and this is what we now intend to do.”
EGO Portable, solar, energy, water, boiler, heating, renewable, thermal, heat