Harnessing Solar Power

Michael Walker, director of commercial product management and marketing, Lennox Industries, Richardson, Texas, 
Mike.Walker@LennoxInd.com.

When it comes to managing energy use, more and more retailers are looking to the sun — and are generating electricity on-site through solar roof panel installations designed to increase efficiencies and utilize a proven green power option. Chain Store Age talked with Michael Walker, director, commercial product management and marketing for Lennox Industries, about the growing retail movement toward solar power and how Lennox is leveraging the interest.


Solar installations of varying types are making the news more and more frequently. How prevalent do you see solar becoming in the retail environment?

As sustainable solutions continue to make headlines, retailers are showing a strong interest in solar technology. And that makes sense — more and more customers are interested in sustainable technologies, and they want to do everything within reason to increase efficiency and eliminate grid-based energy usage. As energy prices rise and solar technology becomes more commonplace, expect to see even more retailers taking advantage of it. 


What types of locations or sizes of stores are best suited to solar technology?

Solar solutions can be a good match for any location. At Lennox, we can scale our system starting with one panel on up; which means even locations with small rooftop space can benefit. Obviously, new construction is a great application, because systems can be designed to include solar from the beginning. However, because it is not necessary to tie our system directly to the main electrical system, solar can be a great solution for existing buildings that want to replace their HVAC systems and add solar.


What retailers do you see as having really maximized solar solutions? 

It is not one type of retailer (for example, restaurant, big-box store, supermarket) that has maximized the use of solar, but rather a mind-set. Companies that proactively seek to try new technologies, reduce energy usage, or capitalize on their own customers’ move toward green and sustainable lifestyles are the ones that have expressed the most interest in and are integrating solar products.


What should retailers understand about solar energy, in terms of investment and benefits?

Solar provides retailers with a way to reduce their grid-based energy usage. This will help them lower total energy usage throughout the year, as well as the peak amount used at a single time. Lowering peak energy usage is something that not everyone thinks about. But it can dramatically lower energy bills, because oftentimes, a commercial user’s electric rate is partly tied to the maximum amount of energy they need at any one time. Many retailers also talk about the positive side of being seen as green or using sustainable technologies — their customers identify with and like this idea. In turn, they reward these retailers with their business. 


How involved has Lennox become in solar solutions?

Lennox is the first and only commercial HVAC system that integrates directly with solar power. Lennox recognized the potential power of sustainable solutions before anyone else, and we have given our customers exactly what they have requested. Now, we sell and support a completely integrated solar solution that’s ideal for new construction or retrofit applications. 


Describe your SunSource Commercial Energy System — and how it can impact retail.

Lennox offers a simple, safe, efficient and scalable solution compared with a traditional solar product. With the SunSource system, each solar panel features a microprocessor that allows it to tie directly to the commercial HVAC unit. This unique configuration eliminates the need to integrate SunSource into the building’s main electrical system — which can be prohibitively expensive, especially for smaller jobs. 


Since the efficiency level of the individual solar panels is not tied to the system, energy-draining degradation problems of traditional systems are eliminated. Users can also add or remove panels as needed, based on changing demand or budget. The overall investment and expected returns vary greatly, depending on the number of panels purchased, location and government/municipal rebates.