And Then a Light Went Off
And Then a Light Went Off
Infrared panels provide focused and energy-efficient heating. Entrepreneur Niels van Lingen is burning to spread the technology.
When Niels van Lingen was a child, the premises of his father’s logistics company in Schiedam near Rotterdam was his favourite playground. Born in 1977, he grew up watching trucks pull up, be loaded with building materials, then take off on their way to destinations all across Europe.
Reconciling entrepreneurial spirit and social conscience
His father was the sixth entrepreneur in a family business, dating back to its founding in 1880, with 150 staff members and branches in Belgium and England. “Of course, I was immensely proud of my father,” Lingen says. And of course everyone assumed that he, the only son, would continue the family tradition and become number seven in the dynasty of company owners.
Yet after he earned his degree in Business Administration, the young man began to have second thoughts. It was not enough to carry on a successful family business. He had clearly inherited his father’s keen business sense. But there was also his mother, an elementary school teacher with a very strong social awareness. “I wanted to do something with my life that would allow me to reconcile both of these elements.”
His father supported him: “If you have any doubts, don’t do it!” he advised his son. In the logistics industry, competition is ruthless and the work gruelling—24 hours a day, seven days a week. Lingen Senior knew that this line of work was only sustainable if it was also a calling.
Cosy heat from above
Meanwhile his son found his own calling: “By sheer coincidence!” Lingen says, laughing. While visiting someone in a hospital, he felt a pleasant, cosy heat hugging him from above. He looked up at the ceiling and saw a square panel. “What is this thing?” he enquired, intrigued. It was an infrared panel. Instead of heating the air, as conventional heaters do, it emits warm rays of light, similar to the sun. That sparked Lingen’s interest. Heating with light instead of air—that was novel as well as sustainable, since an infrared heater does not require fossil fuels such as gas, oil, or coal. The young man knew instantly: there it was, the added value that he had been searching for. “I wasn’t going to just start a company, I would also be able to do my part to save this planet.”
Switching from air to light
Now he had a mission: Get consumers to switch from air to light as their source of heat. This is the change he wants to make happen, under the slogan “Shift happens.”
First, he did his research and built a team of scientists and experts. Then he created a business plan and looked for sponsors, initially among what he jokingly calls the three Fs: “family, friends, and fools.”
Eventually he found a bank in Germany that was willing to invest in his company. There, he realized, “banks are more open toward green technologies than here in the Netherlands.” Finding a name for his 2009 start-up was easy: ThermIQ. “Because it is all about smart, intelligent heat.”
Light rays deliver targeted heat to very precise locations, such as the workspace or a specific corner of the sofa. Conventional air heating, on the other hand, fills the entire room. Since warm air rises, the warmest place is always right underneath the ceiling—“and people do not normally sit there.”
Energy savings of up to 70%
An infrared heater lowers energy consumption by up to 70% and costs by up to 30%: “Light rays are generated by electricity, which is more costly than gas. This is why the savings only add up to 30%.” Of course, Lingen encourages his customers to switch to green power, “but that is up to every individual to decide.”
A 60 by 60 centimetre infrared panel costs about 350 Euro and heats an area of about 12 square meters. Switching a 60-square-metre apartment from air to light heating is an expense of about 2,500 Euro. Home owners must invest roughly 6,000 Euro. “The best time to do it is when you are renovating or building a home. And of course, once your old heater stops working.”
Production doubles each year
Only a fraction of households use infrared light for heating today. The technology is still experiencing growing pains, and competition is stiff. The formula for ThermIQ panels is kept secret as if were the ingredients of Coca Cola: “We haven’t even registered a patent yet, because we would have to reveal too much.”
Today, the company is marketing its infrared panels in eight European countries. Thus far, production has doubled each year. The first supermarket chains are starting to heat with light. Some Jumbo and Albert-Heijn supermarket branches in the Netherlands now feature a panel above the cash registers. The cashiers below can set the temperature themselves—“while the rest of the store and thus the merchandise remains cool,” Lingen is happy to report.
And what about his father?
He could not be prouder of his son and has since joined ThermIQ as vice executive director. And he is still working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The way it should be when your job is also your calling.