Roderick and Floris Wolters: Freezing the Sun
Rummaging through the archives of Twente Technical University, two enterprising students struck gold: An experiment carried out around the turn of the century but not taken to the next level. After a bit of tinkering, the brothers Roderick and Floris Wolters managed to improve on the original design and finish the job with stellar results. They then rushed to the patent office and started Solar Solutions World Wide to bring their invention to the market.
The Wolters brothers have found a way to reduce heating costs to zero for private homes and most businesses. Their system extracts energy from water. As water starts to freeze, it releases vast amounts of energy moments before the liquid turns to ice.
A water reservoir – essentially a bag measuring nine metres square – is installed in a crawl space or a basement with its contents being warmed by a few solar panels. A small heat pump is connected to cool the water down to -1 degree Celsius. This process, an endless cycle, produces copious amounts of energy – up to eighty times the amount put in and enough to heat an entire house even through the dead of winter.
The Solar Freezer is now ready for market. Demo setups have shown the system’s viability with results that exceeded expectations. The first housing societies have come knocking on the start-up company’s door and the Wolters brothers are confident that before long their Solar Freezer will be a household name. “It is somewhat of a no-brainer: The setup does not require extensive modifications to the building, is not at all invasive, and is a plug-and-play affair. Once properly installed, it just keeps running with minimal maintenance,” says Roderick Wolters.
The brothers estimate that well over 80% of the Dutch housing stock can accommodate the Solar Freezer without any alterations to the building. The installation cost may be recouped in about 6-7 years. Fiscal incentives and direct subsidies can shave two or three years off this timeframe.
“The Wolter brothers have so far been involved with three successful start-up companies which they passed on to others as new opportunities arose. However, this is the first time they have struck out on their own with a proprietary technology that promises to revolutionise the way heating is provided to homes and businesses.”
The average household in The Netherlands spends about €2,000 annually on heating, mostly for natural gas. “This entire bill can be wiped out unless the cooking range is gas-powered in which case a savings of about 97% may be obtained. Moreover, our system is of course carbon-neutral and as such in sync with present environmental concerns,” explains Roderick Wolters.
The brothers set up their company on the campus of Twente University in Enschede and receive the full support of the institution. The premises of Solar Solutions World Wide are part of the university’s “Knowledge Park,” an incubator for innovative businesses devised and run by students.
The university’s business developer Kees Schöller is excited: “The Wolter brothers have so far been involved with three successful start-up companies which they passed on to others as new opportunities arose. However, this is the first time they have struck out on their own with a proprietary technology that promises to revolutionise the way heating is provided to homes and businesses.”
Manon van Essen of the Dutch Homeowners Association is also thrilled: “The Solar Freezer may indeed solve the issue of energy storage. For a long time, we’ve been trying to figure out how to store solar energy for release at moments when it is most needed. This system seems to offer a way to do just that.” Mrs Van Essen explains that most homeowners are less than excited to feed their excess solar energy into the public grid: “They’d much rather save that energy for their own use.”
Though encouraged by the massive and positive response to their invention, the Wolters brothers are not about to order Maseratis or sail into the sunset aboard a private yacht. They remain first and foremost brilliant tinkerers with a passion for technology and the ways in which it can contribute towards a better world.