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Honda collaborates on a hybrid for the home

Heating device that creates electricity as a bonus unveils today

American Honda Motor Co., which has been working on hybrid cars, is collaborating on a hybrid of sorts for the home: a roughly $8,000 natural gas system that ''co-generates" heat and electricity.

For consumers willing to invest $3,000 to $4,000 more than the cost of a conventional heating system, there's a potential for savings when it comes to paying energy bills down the road, according to Climate Energy LLC of Medfield, one of Honda's partners. With the new system, called a Micro-CHP System, natural gas that home owners buy to convert to heat creates electricity as a bonus byproduct.

At an event set for today at the Museum of Science, Climate Energy, and Honda plan to unveil a combined heat-and-power appliance that Climate Energy claims can shave about $600 off a local consumer's annual electricity bill.

According to the two companies, this is the first time such an appliance will be available at affordable prices to US home owners.

''This is real," said Eric Guyer, Climate Energy's chief executive.

A pilot program is set to begin in the fall, and some time next year US consumers should be able to buy these appliances, which combine a customized heating unit with a piece of equipment about the size of a file cabinet that includes a generator powered by a Honda engine, Guyer said.

Wade Terry, vice president of Honda Power Equipment, noted that Honda has placed roughly 15,000 similar units in Japanese homes over the last two years.

In theory, a combined heat-and-power system could compete with systems that use solar or wind power to create energy.

But when it comes to conservation, there is ''no silver bullet," said Chad Laurent, coordinator of green energy programs for the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance, a Boston nonprofit. Many so-called green buildings use more than one energy-saving technology, he noted.

And anything that lessens the country's dependency on foreign oil is good, added Dick Tinsman, director of green buildings and infrastructure for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi public agency.

''It's a piece of the puzzle, a piece of the solution," he said of co-generation systems.

The collaborative, which provides rebates for renewable energy systems, estimates that a solar electricity system for a home typically costs between $15,000 and $20,000. In most cases, solar panels are mounted on a home's roof, and a roof needs an unobstructed view of the sun for the system to be feasible. Only about 25 percent of Massachusetts homes are suitable for solar electricity systems, the collaborative estimates.

But any home heated by natural gas is a potential candidate for a combined heating and power system, Guyer said.

According to 2000 Census data, 47 percent of Massachusetts homes used either natural gas or propane. In this part of the world, solar electricity systems generate the most energy in the summer when days are long. A co-generation system, in contrast, is expected to produce the most electricity in the winter when consumers heat their homes.

An affluent consumer who feels strongly about protecting the environment might purchase both systems in a bid to get nearly year-round efficiencies, Guyer said.

Climate Energy is a joint venture between Yankee Scientific Inc., a research and development company in Medfield, and ECR International Inc., a company in Utica, N.Y., that manufactures home heating systems. Climate Energy assembled components of various companies such as Honda to develop the co-generation system.

The system is Climate Energy's first product, Guyer said.

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

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