Comercialization program brings new products out of R&D

September 8, 2011 By    

State and regional propane associations have had general success with appliance safety rebate programs in past years, and now PERC council members have approved a nationwide incentive program to jump-start innovative new propane applications in the marketplace.

While not a rebate program in the traditional sense, it gives construction professionals and homeowners significant financial incentives to install select new residential and commercial propane products and report back on their experiences. The financial incentives are provided in exchange for participants completing pre- and post-demonstration surveys that capture equipment performance data.

Qualifying propane equipment will be PERC-funded research and development products that are ready for commercialization. The first propane product categories chosen for the program are micro-CHP (residential combined heat power units), CHP (commercial combined heat power units) and premium generator sets with the emphasis on hybrid propane renewable installations for off-grid use. It is expected that such manufacturers as Marathon Engine Systems, Freewatt, Yanmar and Generac will have equipment involved.

Sizing up the products
Micro-CHP units are sized for residential use with up to 5 kilowatts of electricity-generating capacity, while CHP units are above 5 kilowatts and are generally used in commercial projects. Distributed generation units, also known as on-site generation, use a propane-powered engine to provide heat and produce electricity that often exceeds on-site consumption. The heat delivery system can be a conventional forced air or hydronic system.

Net metering in many states allows the homeowner to sell excess electricity production back to the public utility provider. CHP units hold a considerable installed cost advantage over other distributed generation technology, such as small-scale wind and solar systems, and are further along on the curve of technology development. CHP technology has been in common use in Japan and other parts of the world for years.

Accelerating change
Our state and federal governments are “in bed” with the public utilities and rural electric coops, resulting in a regulatory process that has hindered the development of distributed generation in this country.

That situation is slowly starting to change as more and more demands are being placed on the over-capacity central power plants and transmission lines known as the grid. Now PERC has an incentive plan in place to help you accelerate that change.

Many of the propane marketers with whom I talk about CHP products feel that the equipment is overpriced. Of course, many of these same marketers are also complaining about current and prospective customer losses due to geothermal heating/cooling systems that can cost twice as much as micro-CHP and are not as versatile as propane with other energy applications in the home.

Off-grid living is beginning to accelerate with the advent of advanced generator and battery design and integration with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Bringing propane to off-grid sites makes sense for a lot of reasons, including space heating, water heating and cooking. Now, thanks to PERC-funded research and development, reliable premium generator sets are available for off-grid use, and they have a nice incentive tied into the purchase.

The incentive for residential micro-CHP equipment is $5,000, while the commercial CHP incentive is $10,000. The premium generator incentive is $1,000. There is even an extra incentive pool for new technology coming out of the PERC R&D pipeline. The program includes an extensive outreach program to construction professionals, qualifying equipment manufacturers along with their distribution networks and to the propane industry. There is enough funding in the program to place more than 100 units.

Please consider me as one of your sources for further information and program participation.

This incentive program should make propane marketers feel more comfortable approaching prospects. A wise old boss once told me that I should never use the size of my own wallet to determine how much a customer is willing to pay for a good product. That saying still applies.

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