Its idea may be simple, but that did not stop Radiator Labs winning the MIT Clean Energy Prize with its controllable box that can be retrofitted to radiators to boost the efficiency of hot water and steam heating systems. The heavily insulated housings physically cover the radiator, trapping heat in the system, and strictly controlling the amount that is let into the room. This prevents homes becoming over-heated, and wasteful heat loss as people open windows to compensate.

The controlled heat transfer is activated by a fan, which, thanks to the inclusion of wireless control technology, opens up all kinds of smart-home intelligent, remote and automated control sorcery. Nice, accessible desktop computing and mobile apps are perhaps the most obvious example, perhaps as part of a broader smart-home operating system such as Microsoft's HomeOS, currently in the prototype stage.

"Adopting this cost-effective technology in the millions of existing U.S. housing units with steam radiator systems has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs per year and reduce carbon emissions by over 6 million tons [5.4 million tonnes] – equivalent to taking 1.25 million automobiles off the road," said Radiator Labs CEO Marshall Cox.

Of course, radiators fitted with valves can be turned down or off when heat isn't desirable, so Radiator Labs' system is arguably surplus to requirements in the majority of cases - provided people actually turn radiators or thermostats down when temperatures become too high rather than opening windows. (Remarkably, some people don't.)

But there are plenty of circumstances under which Radiator Labs' technology would come into its own: any systems which, for whatever reason, do not come with valves; older systems for which the regular adjustment of valves risks damaging the system; or in the homes of less able-bodied persons in which radiator valves are difficult to operate. Radiator Labs seems to have apartment blocks of residential housing in mind judging by their schematics. Even where a heating system is controlled by a thermostat, Radiator Labs could potentially offer savings by effectively breaking the system down into zones, preventing excess heating in rooms that are used less.

Founded by Columbia University students, the system was first field tested at the University over the 2011-12 heating season. Radiator Labs is preparing for a larger scale pilot scheme for the 2012-13 season.

Similar technology exists, however. There are systems available designed to be retroffited to radiators that phsycially open and shut the radiator valves, though it could be argued that it does not directly compete with Radiator Labs whose technology seems to be better-suited to valveless systems.

Hopefully after the larger-scale test Radiator Labs will release more details of the technology involved, and where and how it's best implemented.

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