Dear Comfort Advisor,
I hear about alternative solutions for many of our energy problems. Are there any systems for heating and cooling that utilize this new technology?
Dear Solar Sam,
As much as times are tough here and abroad, innovation is still going strong. Alternative energy in my industry takes several forms. Generally speaking, a system that uses alternative energy does not use fossil fuels like natural gas, propane, electric resistance, or fuel oil. Some can use these older fuel systems as back up. The initial cost for an alternative energy HVAC system is quite a bit more expensive, but the long term energy savings make them worth a look, especially if we consider that the cost of energy is likely to sharply increase in the next decade.
Geo-thermal heat pumps are the most common of the alternative energy systems and have been around for several decades. I’ve written about them before. Twenty years ago you may have been considered a bit wacky to install a geo-thermal heat pump, but now you would be making a very wise decision. Federal and state tax incentives, electrical co-op rebates, low interest loan programs, and years of low operating costs are yours for the taking. They can both heat and cool your home and when equipped with a desuperheater, can even heat your domestic hot water.
Solar powered systems in HVAC are somewhat limited now, but that is changing. There are two different types of systems: solar thermal (creates hot water) and solar photovoltaic (creates electricity). We mainly see the solar thermal applications. They are not uncommon as a primary source of heating domestic hot water and/or hot water used in radiant heating systems. We typically see active solar heating, which is liquid based. Collectors usually mounted on the roof absorb solar radiation and pump that heat through a heat exchanger located in a larger storage tank. An auxiliary or backup system, typically a boiler, is piped in-line to the system to provide heat during periods of low sun and when the storage tank is discharged. Liquid solar panels in our climate will circulate anti-freeze for obvious reasons. One issue to consider is what to do with all that hot water during the summer when we aren’t space heating. This is why we primarily see small scale solar domestic hot water heating.
Newer to the market are solar photovoltaic HVAC systems. Lennox will be releasing a new product this summer that connects the outdoor heat pump or air conditioner to roof mounted solar modules (1-15). When the HVAC system is not in use, the solar power is fed back to the panel allowing that electricity to satisfy other energy needs in the home. Any surplus power can go back to the utility where net metering is available. Homeowners can monitor the system operation, energy production, and environmental benefits online. Initial costs are high, but they also qualify for those attractive alternative energy tax credits. Systems this summer can be installed solar ready and integrated with the solar modules at a later time. Solar panel technology is advancing everyday and the price is going down.
Stop by our booth this weekend at the Home and Garden Show at the fairgrounds. We have a solar display set up and can talk with you in detail on how to lower your heating and cooling costs all while improving your comfort.