Cool prospects for green Colo. AC company
Early doubters evaporated after seeing Coolerado’s air-cooling systems in action. Now the company is expanding.
Ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Energy doubted Coolerado and its efficient air-conditioning systems.
Today, the federal agency is among the Denver company’s many supporters, which also include Gov. Bill Ritter, Mayor John Hickenlooper and scores of customers.
A Coolerado unit employs indirect evaporative-cooling technology.
“It’s somewhere between an air conditioner and a swamp cooler, and in a Western climate it is much closer to an air conditioner,” said Steve Slayzak, senior engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the Department of Energy. “But the reason it is so attractive is that it uses a fraction of the electricity used by an air conditioner and does not add moisture to the air.”
The company says a Coolerado uses 10 percent of the energy consumed by an air conditioner.
Buoyed by demand, it plans to hire 80 new employees this year and make 2,500 Coolerados, or 25 times its volume in 2008.
“We could create 220 jobs if we scale up to 12,000 in 2010,” chief executive and president Mike Luby said.
A Singapore firm is negotiating the shipment of 400 systems, while bids are outstanding in the Middle East. Back home, orders are piling up.
But the exponential growth would require a $5 million capital infusion into its modest factory in east Denver a tough call in this recession.
Customers cannot buy Coolerados off the shelves at, say, Sears or Best Buy. Only authorized vendors can purchase and install the systems.
Coolerados are 20 percent more expensive than air conditioners, Luby said, “but a customer will get his money back in energy savings in two years.”
Ram Grinding, a precision manufacturing company, bought three Coolerados four years ago for its 7,800-square- foot factory in Arvada.
The systems cost about $350 a month in electricity and water bills, less than one-fourth what an air conditioner would have cost, said Donovan Horton, one of the co-owners.
“For us, Coolerado was perfect,” Horton said. “Our machines put out humidity, so we couldn’t use swamp coolers. Air conditioners were expensive.”
Coolerado owes its technology to Dr. Valeriy Maisotsenko, who defected from Ukraine and came to Denver in 1992.
In 1999, he, along with three brothers Rick, Alan and Lee Gillan and Tim Heaton set up Idalex, a research-and-development company in Arvada that subsequently spawned Coolerado.
“We saw a crude demonstration of the air cooler built by his graduate students in Ukraine,” Rick Gillan said.
The technology has improved, but the company still is partial to students.
Last week, Corrissa Gillan and Candice Kauffman, both 19 and planning to go back to school this year, worked a day shift at the factory.
In January, the company received the Governor’s Excellence in Renewable Energy Award.
That’s a far cry from the early 2000s, when the Department of Energy rejected its grant request, saying the technology was “not possible.”
“But tests showed it does work,” Gillan said. “But still we didn’t get money from them.”