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Slow Fans

Black Sand Brewery in Bali has introduced HVLS fans to keep its patrons cool. (Photo by Ian Lloyd Neubauer) —

An obvious solution is more air conditioners. But the conundrum is that while they cool people down, the carbon-emitting devices also stoke global warming, which increases demand for air conditioning and piles more pressure on the climate.

Some, however, see the nation as ripe for a different kind of cooling: High Volume Low Speed fans (HVLS).

Hung from ceilings and on walls or free standing, they have more energy-efficient motors and longer blades than regular fans, generating a gentler, more consistent breeze. They reduce perceived temperature by up to 7 C, which can cut air conditioning consumption by as much as 30%, according to a study by Hanley Wood University, an online school for the construction industry.

Magnovent, a Spanish manufacturer, entered Indonesia at the start of this year, opening what it says isthe country’s first dedicated HVLS showroom and warehouse on the island of Bali.

“China is the biggest market in Asia for HVLS fans but they already make them there, so we chose Indonesia instead,” said our CEO. “It’s a tropical country with more than 270 million people, so there’s lots of pent up demand. And in Bali, you have many resorts with large outdoor spaces that need ventilation solutions, not AC.”

Magnovent believes it can outgun competitors by offering in-house warranties, servicing and sales support. The company also cites its brushless motors, touting them as the most energy-efficient cooling solutions on the market. Early adopters in Indonesia include Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, the largest in Southeast Asia, Australia’s embassy in Jakarta and its consulate-general on Bali, the KFC restaurant chain and 2M Design Lab, an architectural firm on Bali.

HVLS fans were invented in 1998, when researchers at the University of California, Riverside were trying to figure out the best way to cool dairy cattle over the summer. A year later, a company that would later be renamed Big Ass Solutions began distributing the fans across the U.S. — and forking out sizable research and development investments to make the devices quieter and more efficient.

Sales increased an average of 30% a year. In 2017, the company, which distributes fans in 180 countries, was acquired by the New York private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg for $500 million.

The company has offices in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, though not in Indonesia, where it sells fans through third parties. Prices for residential-size HVLS fans start at $500, much more than conventional fans and the cheapest air conditioner in Indonesia, while larger units with commercial applications and diameters up to 7 meters cost as much as $10,000. China’s Kale Environment Technology also sells HVLS fans through third parties in Indonesia.

The International Energy Agency describes the need for cooling as “one of the most critical energy issues of our time.” It estimates “energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050,” mainly driven by growth in the emerging economies of China, India and Indonesia.

Combined, air conditioners and fans use 10% of global electricity — more than any other home appliance, according to the IEA. HVLS fans consume 10% to 25% of the electricity of regular fans, studies by Magnovent show.

Some companies and researchers have been pushing to come up with more energy-efficient air conditioners, which currently operate at 14% of maximum theoretical efficiency compared to LED lights at 89%, according to the Global Cooling Prize.

Launched in 2018 by British billionaire Richard Branson, the competition offered up to $3 millionto the inventors of a more efficient air conditioner. Announced in April,the joint winners, Gree Electric Appliances of China and Japan’s Daikin, along with their respective partners, produced prototypes with five times less climate change impact than standard units in use today and shared a $1 million grand prize. These technologies could mitigate global warming by more than 0.5 C by 2100, according to the Global Cooling Prize.

Slow FansSpanish company Magnovent sees promise in Indonesia for its HVLS fans for commercial use, but it also manufactures home versions. (Photo courtesy of Magnovent Indonesia)


Other solutions to the global heat crisis include designing buildings that use less energy, with better ventilation and improved insulation. Many U.S. cities require or encourage light-colored roofs on new construction, while in parts of Sydney every backyard must have at least one tree.

The cooling stakes for Indonesia are high. USAID estimates the cost of climate change will reach 132 trillion rupiah ($9.3 billion) in the country by 2050, more than half of which will be borne by agriculture — its largest employment sector.

More expensive health care and less productive workers will account for another third of the fallout, with rapid increases in dengue fever forecast for Jakarta. A study by Scientific Reports last year predicted climate change and population aging will see heat-related deaths among the elderly in the capital grow by a factor of 12 to 15 by the 2050s — or potentially up to 350,000 fatalities a year.

“It’s quite important in a tropical country like Indonesia to use ventilation to reduce the amount of air conditioning,” says 2M Design Lab principal Manuele Mossoni. “Magnovent got me interested because they said they could do that with really low energy consumption. It cut my power bill by a third so I am recommending it to some of our residential and commercial clients.”

Mattia Di Bitonto, co-owner of Black Sand Brewery in Bali, was not easily sold. But two 4.5-meter HVLS fans imported from China in 2019 now help keep his customers cool as they drink craft beer in his large undercover venue.

“At first I did not want them, I was skeptical about whether they would provide enough ventilation, but they worked out really well,” Di Bitonto said.

“A bunch of smaller fans were the only other option but I saved money on the purchase price and running them has been much less expensive,” he said. “It’s also added a really interesting element to the building; the place wouldn’t be the same without them. I’m thinking about adding one more.”

But uptake outside the so-called ‘Bali bubble’ has been slow.

“We have not met our sales target in Indonesia. Far from it,” Magnovent’s Garcia said. “COVID hasn’t helped because the main industries we are targeting — manufacturing, logistics, commercial farms, food processing centers and airports — don’t have budgets this year.”

Low consumer awareness is another headwind faced by HVLS advocates. Most Indonesians have a clear preference for air conditioners and have never heard of slow fans.

“AC is a very big part of the mentality in Indonesia,” Garcia said. “In Jakarta people go from air-conditioned cars, to air-conditioned buildings, to air-conditioned homes.

“We need to educate them about HVLS fans, how they are healthier because they use natural air and you save a lot of electricity. We’re pushing those messages on social media.”