Having come up with an air conditioner which is both energy efficient and effective, James Trevelyan is now following another passion and searching for clean water solutions.
What’s your story?
I invented an extremely energy-efficient personal air conditioner that provides affordable air conditioning for everyone on the planet, without heating our cities and climate. It solves the four most significant problems with traditional air conditioning: affordability, energy consumption, urban heating and climate warming.
It’s a tiny fridge with a fan that blows cool air.
Nearly all the energy used by traditional air conditioners cools concrete, not people. And concrete doesn’t complain about heat!
We cool people, not buildings.
By focusing the cooling just on people, we provide the same comfort with far less energy.
What excites you most about your industry?
Billions of people suffer fitful sleep through hot and steamy tropical nights with biting insects for months every year. We can now provide comfort for sleep and work with chemical-free insect protection through the night, enabling huge health and productivity benefits.
In a warming world, keeping people cool is going to be vital.
Our machines use as little as 100 Watts per person. At that level, almost everyone could afford air conditioning if they need it, without warming the climate. That’s a huge market.
It excites me every day.
What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?
The possibility to improve the lives of billions of people.
Think how you would be, surviving with no aircon, interrupted sleep and mosquitoes just for a couple of nights. Imagine months at a stretch. Your capacity for work would be wiped out. Life is a struggle for most people living in hot climates.
Scientists agree we must eliminate greenhouse emissions by 2050 or sooner. Air conditioning causes significant and growing emissions.
Personal air conditioning will help reduce emissions and energy needs and help lift billions of people out of poverty.
What could be better?
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
For me, the most useful skills are teaching and listening.
Listening helps me understand how best to explain something new. And that’s been my life, formerly at the University of Western Australia engineering school. And now, as I call myself, a young and inexperienced entrepreneur. I am still teaching every day.
I learned so much researching engineering education. And I use that to help educate investors and customers alike.
People only learn if they’re interested, and listening is the key for understanding their interests.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Paul Polak helped inspire the famous D-School at Stanford University. He told me that if you’re going to try, make a difference for at least a million people. And if you have a great idea, make sure people can make money by spreading it.
Great books only sell if book shops can make money by selling them. And the same is true for us. We are distributing our products across the world, building new businesses for people. And that’s exciting.
Our personal air conditioners can help at least a billion people. That’s really worthwhile.
Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela: he was so modest. When asked why he became the leader in South Africa, he explained it like this: “Well, when you have a group of people, there’s always someone standing at the front. I just happened to be the one at the front. That’s all.”
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently studied the urban heat island effect, particularly through summer nights when people are trying to sleep. I found that many cities are warming three or more times faster than the global climate. I was blown away by these numbers.
Traditional air conditioning accelerates urban warming. As cities warm, traditional air conditioners become less efficient and work even harder, spewing out more heat.
Even with renewable energy, this problem is going to get worse, not better.
Personal air conditioning can make a big difference by reducing the need for energy: it’s that simple. Planting more trees will also help.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Not much. I feel blessed by the opportunities I have been able to take up.
I have always tried to leave a little space in my life to follow up on interesting opportunities: if you’re just flat out, you can’t do that.
Now I am just beginning to return to another passion: finding better ways to make safe drinking water available for billions of people. People have to pay up to USD 100 for a thousand litres of safe drinking water across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and other regions. Yet it’s less than USD 5 in Australia.
How do you unwind?
My wife and I watch entertaining TV dramas together. I am also into baking, gardening, walking, and photographing unique flowers all around us here in Western Australia. We have about half of the known varieties of flowering plants and nearly all only grow here. Also planting trees and chatting with friends.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?
When I first showed my clunky prototype in Pakistan in 2014, people were amazed. They immediately asked me how much it would cost to buy. I literally had no idea how to answer: I hadn’t even thought about that. So, instead of answering, I asked them how much they would pay for it. I was blown away when they said “three to four hundred US dollars”. That was the moment when what had started as a technical curiosity became a business proposition.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I think the most helpful book I have read is “People Skills” by Robert Bolton. He starts with listening skills.
I would also suggest my new book “Learning Engineering Practice”. It’s based on interviews and field studies of hundreds of engineers in several countries. While it’s written for engineers, much of it applies to any professional or business person. I could have saved myself from so much frustration if I had the knowledge from that research when I started my career.
Shameless plug for your business:
Air conditioning is now simple, cheap and universal.
There’s no installation, no mess, no pipes.
It’s easily portable.
You don’t need one in every room.
It’s more comfortable too.
My wife is my severest critic, yet she won’t sleep with a traditional air conditioner now if she has one of our machines.
How can people connect with you?
Visit our web pages at www.closecomfort.com, enjoy the videos and reach out to us.
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.