Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lennox product lets homeowners take baby steps to solar

Lennox is expected to make available a second generation of its solar-powered heat pump or "SunSource Comfort System" sometime later this year, currently introducing it at trade shows and reseller venues.

Essentially a high-efficiency heat pump adapted to operate with assistance from solar panels, the product offers a way for homeowners to take a modest step towards offsetting some of their energy usage.

The first-generation product, which the company still has posted on their website, is interesting in concept but fairly limited in features. The 2nd generation product, on the other hand, has expanded its capabilities which are likely to draw in a wider market. Some highlights of this product I noticed include:
  • Installation of solar panels is "expandable." That is, you can add panels as need and budget dictate. The first generation product used only a single panel.
  • It appears to simplify a tie-in to your electric provider (e.g., Duke) so that electricity produced when the heat pump is not in use can offset your other household electric usage.
  • A 3-panel installation is effectively "net zero" relative to the energy used by the heat pump, i.e., the energy produced by 3 panels over a year will offset the amount needed to heat and cool your house. Of course, that is based on expected averages and an individual installation could deviate significantly.
In its current form, the company does not seem to be promoting this as a cost-saving product. Rather, it is aimed primarily at those who want to be seen as early adopters of green technologies.

At the time I saw their presentation, company reps that I spoke with were not yet ready to define a typical installation cost. But from what I gathered, a 3-panel installation with heat pump may cost 3 - 4 times a standard installation. Some of this cost would be offset through a 30% tax credit for renewable energy, yet there is still some question as to whether the entire system would count towards the credit or only the solar panel portion. It is also likely to face strong competition from geothermal systems which are also eligible for the renewable energy credit and have become extremely cost competitive with traditional systems when operational costs are factored in.

While it may not be ready to recommend from a cost-efficiency standpoint, it is nonetheless something to keep an eye on in future generations of its development. What may be of most interest is whether a relatively household brand name like Lennox can open doors for more solar power installations.

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