The power station in your basement

Cooling your car in the summer burns a lot of extra gas, but heating your car in the winter is essentially free. Why? Because the tiny explosions that push the car are also hot. Just scoop up some of the waste heat and pour it on the driver. Problem solved. The car is a natural CHP cogenerator, where CHP stands for Combined Heat and Power. (Note that winter heating is a big problem for electric cars.)

Cogeneration is such an appealing concept. It’s always surprised me that it doesn’t show up in more places, like your house. If you’re already burning something to heat your house, why not do some work at the same time? But identifying waste is one thing and selling profitable products that reduce waste is something else again. The market for expensive durable house-related products is incredibly conservative, even when new efficiencies are at hand.

But change is finally in the air. I was happy when, a few years ago, I started hearing about Honda’s Micro CHP unit. It’s a little natural gas-powered motor that sits in your basement and makes heat and electricity. Does it work in the real world? The answer appears to be yes, to judge by local press stories and YouTube videos.

I was especially glad to come across a Jon Udell interview with someone who works for Freewatt. Freewatt installs (and adds value to) the Honda CHP system. The interview helped convince me that the Micro CHP revolution is the real deal. If you live in a cold climate and you need to replace your furnace, please consider buying one of these.

3 thoughts on “The power station in your basement”

  1. Maybe a tangent, but has anybody ever come up with something to recapture some of the heat lost to the outside from gas dryers? Obviously, you have to vent the exhaust gases, but surely there’s some way to keep some of the warmth a dryer generates inside the house in the winter.

  2. My next door neighbor has one :).

    http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/a-winters-tale-my-first-season-with-micro-combined-heat-and-power/

    My impression, though I’ve not seen the numbers, is that it’s still not cost effective. Which is telling since electric power is very expensive around here.

    Adam – You can get an air to air heat exchanger. You see them in industrial applications, and in very very tightly sealed buildings. They are simple pieces of kit; but even they appear to be hard to cost justify.

    I’ve always fantasized about freezing a big block of ice in the winter to cool the house in the summer.

  3. Thanks for the note (and the link) Ben! It’s sad to hear that your neighbor’s unit might not be worth it, although he seems to think that it is. The time horizons to payback I’ve heard discussed are on the order of 8 years. That seems reasonable. But if it’s 15 years or more, that might be asking too much for a typical homeowner. Regarding ice for summer cooling, maybe (global warming permitting) we can return to the days of Ice King Frederick Tudor. I used to live next to Fresh Pond, but sadly we’d have to cut through a chain link fence these days to retrieve a block of ice.

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