In recent years, especially in Australia, split systems have become the default appliance for home air conditioning, displacing the once ubiquitous “window rattlers”. Now, US company Gradient has reinvented the classic design and is offering a sleeker and more sustainable solution.
Gradient hopes its new system – created by thermal scientists, engineers and executives from Tesla and Nest – will replace the conventional window AC and disrupt a design that the company says has not changed for 50 years. As well as touting better energy efficiency than its predecessors, the saddle-style unit has the advantage of not blocking the view.
Gradient was founded in 2017 and has raised over USD$13 million in venture funding. Investors include Ajax Strategies, At One Ventures, Prime Coalition, Incite Ventures, Autodesk Foundation, Urban Us, Magic Hour, and leading Silicon Valley angels. The company has also received more than USD$9 million in government grants from the US Department of Energy, California Energy Commission, and California Strategic Growth Council.
HVAC&R News asked Gradient CEO Vince Romanin about the new system.
The focus for AC development and manufacturing these days seems to be on split systems. Why did Gradient end up going down the path of the window air conditioner?
Our system has more similarities with a mini-split system than that of a window air conditioner. In fact, we want to bring all of the benefits of mini-split systems – variable speed drive, efficient operation, heat pump heating – to a wider audience by simplifying the install process. For our first product, this means installing through a window but removing the annoying parts of a window AC, by still allowing users to open and close the window and get natural light. For future products, we’ll consider the specific needs and building types of each customer segment.
In terms of energy efficiency, how does the Gradient unit compare to other systems on the market?
We expect our system to emit 75 per cent less direct and indirect carbon emissions than today’s systems. This is based on using more environmentally friendly refrigerants, being more efficient, and displacing fossil fuel heating with electric heat pump heating. Our end goal is a fully decarbonised heating and cooling system, which we expect to get to by continuing to push for more environmentally friendly refrigerants, pushing our heating capability into colder climates, and building demand response into our system so that it can work better with grid renewables.
Which refrigerants will these systems use?
We use R32 today, but our goal is to move to even more climate-friendly refrigerants in the near future. Natural refrigerants create more efficient and climate-friendly products; we believe they are the future of the industry. We’re working with regulatory and industry standards to get full approval in the US. They’re already being used in many applications around the globe.
The Gradient units are expected to hit the US market after March 2022. Will we see them in Australia at some point?
We’re looking to expand to other regions as soon as possible. Our mission is to enable everyone to have access to comfortable buildings, in a way that does not compromise the environment. We’re serious about that mission, and solving both the adaptation and mitigation side of climate change requires a global view.
For more information about Gradient, click here.