Energy-efficiency organizations, such as the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), continue to push the bounds of renewable energy in solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and more. This summer, the NREL announced new efficiency breakthroughs in solar cells, breaking Alta Devices’ world record for a two-junction solar cell under one sun of illumination. Operated for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC, the lab produced a 31.1 percent conversion efficiency in comparison to the previous record’s 30.8 percent. Though a seemingly small improvement, this discovery, along with many others, are finding their way into a developing renewable energy equipment market for HVACR contractors.
As costs continue to decline, and the price of energy continues to rise, solar heating and cooling is slowly growing beyond niche market bounds. Manufacturers are keeping up, crafting technological advances into new, compelling renewable energy equipment.
Solar is not a new concept in the renewable energy arena. In fact, some argue that the idea of solar energy was one of the frontrunners of the renewable energy movement. Lennox Intl. has been researching solar since the 1970s, introducing its first solar thermal collectors in 1977. In 2011, the company released its SunSource® Commercial Energy System. The commercial HVAC system integrates directly with Lennox’s Energence® rooftop unit product line as a factory-installed option. Each solar-ready Energence rooftop unit can accommodate up to 25 solar panels. Micro-inverter technology individually controls the panels and, according to Lennox Intl., changes to the building’s electrical wiring infrastructure are not required for most applications. A communication module provides online monitoring of system status, energy production, and environmental benefits in real-time.
“Renewable products are gaining traction in the market,” said Lily Mak, product manager for commercial splits, heating, and IAQ at Lennox Intl. “Knowledge and experience in the commercial renewable market, and with the SunSource system, can help contractors differentiate their services and expand into new market segments.”
Renewable systems help contractors as they endeavor to meet customer desires and solar-ready government mandates, such as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), ASHRAE Green Standard 189.1, and others, acknowledged Mak.
“Understanding the technology, features, and benefits of renewable equipment solutions, and effectively communicating these values to the end user, will help establish savvy commercial contractors in the renewable sector,” she said. “Your customer’s return on investment is dependent upon high power output over 20-30 years. Commercial contractors that take the right steps now with renewable and solar solutions will be well positioned in the coming years.”
Eco Solar Technologies Inc. only manufactures renewable equipment products. The company is planning on new features in the future according to Mike Weinberger, director of sales and marketing.
“New solar products allow the contractor to be involved in the $12 billion solar market,” he said. “The time is now to move into offering high-efficiency equipment as demands on the grid begin to overload the system. Renewable energy technology is the answer.”
Weinberger predicts that the use of renewable technology will double in the next two years and quadruple in the next five years.
Mak agreed that increases in energy consumption would likely fuel an increase in renewable energy demand. She predicts the installed solar capacity to double by 2016, despite the expected cuts in solar subsidies from the government.
“Growth will be in the commercial, residential, and off-grid markets,” she explained. “Many of the innovative and flexible financing options, which previously have only been offered for small residential or very large utility-scale projects, will begin to migrate to the commercial segment.”
There are multiple ways that manufacturers apply solar technology to HVAC equipment. Titus HVAC’s solar technology is packaged in its Solar Plexicon and EOS. The Solar Plexicon is a combination displacement/mixed-air diffuser enhanced with energy-harvesting solar cells. It provides cooling and perimeter heating in an occupied zone. The EOS is a solar-powered, energy-harvesting diffuser for perimeter applications that features auto-changeover.
“These products harvest ambient light energy to motivate their actuation,” explained David Pich, director of HVAC technologies at Titus HVAC. “The devices do not require external power or controls connections. This means that you can achieve the same functionality with only one individual touching the device.”
The progressive diversity in solar technology, and its application to HVAC equipment, is prompting some manufacturers to stress the importance of proper training when it comes to renewable equipment.
“Contractors need to understand dc voltage and the different configurations required for the systems to efficiently operate,” said Michael Smith, manager of global marketing communications, Tecumseh Products Co. “Knowledge of solar applications and the changing power sources between batteries and solar panels is a must.”
Tecumseh manufactures Sierra and Cascade compressors and condensing units, controllers, and software for solar-powered a/c and refrigeration applications. According to the company, it has more than a decade of component manufacturing experience in the solar market.
“Contractors should understand the benefits of a self-sustaining system so that they can convey the message to the end consumer,” encouraged Smith. “The cost savings in energy consumption alone is significant, and as the costs of products continue to come down, the payback becomes shorter.”
Tecumseh is expecting the global solar cooling industry to grow 10-20 percent a year for the next few years, referencing significant growth in India, China, and Africa as an indicator. As for North America, the company continues to predict moderate growth.
“New products are being developed and introduced on a continual basis,” said Smith. “Anything stationary that performs a cooling function can be developed as a solar-powered application.”
Publication date: 9/2/2013