You're right, doing frequent ignitions will not make much sense. Initially the user will have to press the button to make the ignition or burnout occur. We have automatic ignition in the works, and it will have logic in place to prevent frequent burnout and ignition cycles.
Worked up some quick power usage calcs:
LL Pioneer: .55 amp stoker, .58 amp combustion, 1.86 amp convection
Ignition cycle usage:
120 x (9/60) hr x 1.5 amp = igniter power = .027kWh
120 x (14/60) hr x .55 amp = stoker power = .015kWh
120 x (8/60) hr x .58 amp = combustion power = .009kWh
Total: .051 kWh of electricity and 21,000 BTU or 1.615 lbs of coal per cycle
Idle fire usage:
120 x .55 amp x .06 hr = .004 kWh
120 x .58 amp x 1 hr = .070 kWh
Total: .074 kWh and roughly 6000BTU or .415 lbs of coal per hour
So on a coal usage basis a minimum of around 4.5 hours of down time is needed to reach a breakeven. By electricity usage it is more like only 1.5 hours of down time before breakeven. I think... Someone jump in with the right math if I screwed up.
So one can't be starting and stopping like a gas or oil heating appliance, but if you hit a warm spell and are overheating in the days but still need the heat in the evening and nights (or maybe hit a cold patch in late spring through early fall), maybe someone cooks for a couple hours a couple days a week and you don't need the heat running, and of course the more intermittent usage cases like you described (camp/weekend place, shop/basement heater, extra room heater to handle really cold days, etc.) we believe the igniter can be quite useful.
There are a whole bunch of people out there that have discounted coal heating appliances in part because they don't offer automated, electronic ignition options like the modern pellet devices do. This includes potential customers as well as a fair number of showroom dealers who put the coal stove, if they even have one, in the back corner to be ignored and silently ridiculed. At least until the smart, well researched customer comes along, that is.
Most people don't even realize there is a residential coal heating industry anymore. Ultimately we're aiming to expand the market for coal heating appliances by stoking (sorry, couldn't resist) renewed interest in what most outside (and many inside) PA consider to be a stagnant, dead-end industry. Coal-trol Digital and the new ignition option are our opening shots in this revolutionary effort.
BTW: Richard, you said the element was "enormous". How big do you think it was? What do you think is a reasonable size?