Let’s get real, do you think about your water heater or even the cost of keeping water hot? If you are like most homeowners, you’re just happy that the water is hot when you want to take a shower or wash the dishes. However, water heaters deserve a little more thought. They account for the second highest source of energy usage in a home, second only to heating and cooling. For 2021, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that roughly 12 percent of an average home’s energy consumption is spent on heating water. The amount of energy used to heat water breaks down into two factors: 1) the amount of hot water used, and 2) the type of water heater.
In today’s market, there are a variety of water heaters available, including conventional water heaters, tankless water heaters, heat pump water heaters, solar hot water heaters, and more. While homeowners may have different factors and reasons for selecting a specific system, this blog will focus on water heaters that save homeowners money, increase comfort and health, reduce energy consumption, and allow for more control all at the tip of your fingers.
So how does your water heater compare to a smart water heater?
Smart Technology Highlight: Smart Water Heater
Similar to typical water heaters, smart water heaters are designed to produce a continuous supply of hot water. The main difference, however, is that smart water heaters are equipped with remote controls and energy saving capabilities. A smart water heater is a water heater equipped with smart technology that can analyze occupant behavior patterns, track usage patterns, and predict usage accordingly. A smart water heater will prevent unnecessary water and energy waste through remote monitoring and usage control. For example, homeowners can turn off their water heater during the workday, saving energy and costs, and turn it back on via an app as they come home.
By upgrading to a smart water heater - saving energy, reducing bills, increasing safety, and enhancing control can be easily accomplished. No more stressing out on if you forgot to turn off your water heater on vacation or high energy bills.
- A smart system can give you complete control over your water heater. It is capable of being programmed, much like a coffee maker. So, if you want a hot shower every morning at 7:00 a.m., you can program that schedule. In addition, you can also easily check your water usage.
- With the ability to turn your water heater off/on in just a few clicks, you also have more control over your energy consumption. This can save on your monthly energy bills.
- The smart system is also great if you prefer to be hands-off. It can learn your household’s hot water usage patterns and adjust automatically. As your patterns change, the smart system adapts to meet your needs. For example, if you switch to nightly baths instead of morning showers, the smart system will recognize and adjust.
- Smart water heaters can also offer peace of mind, whether you are home or away. If something goes wrong with your water heater, the system will alert you via the app. You can choose which alerts you want to get, like warnings about leaks or system failures.
- In addition to higher savings from increased control, you can save energy and money by shifting water heating to off-peak hours if your utility offers time-of-use rates.
Role in Smart Energy Homes
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) released a Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan and listed some of its main accomplishments prior to the report. At that time, the department’s work focused on the deployment of smart grid technology (smart meters, grid monitoring technologies, smart thermostats, etc.), and developing technology to rapidly collect data on grid conditions, energy storage, and grid integration capabilities. Today in the Northeast, a few of these technology areas have come to the forefront, including smart thermostats and other “smart” devices, energy storage systems/batteries, and home energy management systems (HEMS) that give timely feedback to the grid. With the deployment of smart devices like smart thermostats, homeowners have been introduced to technologies that can save energy, money, increase control, and connect with the grid.
Smart energy home technologies have continued to rise in popularity and importance. These advances, however, were not made solely for the customer benefit and comfort. These technologies also offer key grid, energy, and climate benefits by increasing interconnectivity, control, flexibility, and resilience for the grid. It is essential that homes across the region are not only efficient, but also flexible and able to interact with the grid to meet both grid and customer needs.
Water Heater Control Trends
Although water heater control programs are not very common throughout the region, they will be a rising trend in the next few years. A handful of states have begun researching the topic and developing pilots.
Analysis has shown that the transition from standard electric resistance water heating technology to highly efficient electric water heating technology results in nearly a 340 million kWh in annual electricity savings across the region. With the connection of home energy management systems and smart meters, smart water heaters provide opportunities for demand response savings as well as automated efficiency optimization - allowing for the ability to shed load during peak times and shift usage to off-peak hours.
Smart Water Heating in Action: Efficiency Vermont
In 2017, Green Mountain Power offered its customers the eSmartwater program to transform the grid to a system that is cost-effective and reliable. The program featured the Aquanta smart water heater controller that allows homeowners to control their water heater as well as connect with the smart grid - achieving cost savings, comfort, convenience, and control. The program also featured a Nest Learning Thermostat to reduce overall energy costs and increase remote monitoring and control.
While the pilot is no longer available, Green Mountain Power offers other smart control programs and incentives (e.g. heat pumps, EV battery/storage) and Efficiency Vermont offers support on smart water heating.
At the end of the day, the majority of homeowners will not likely consider an upgrade until their current system kicks the bucket. And even when the system fails, most people will look for a quick, easy replacement. Last week during a stretch of single-digit degree days, my water heater stopped working and all I wanted was the system to be fixed – gas, electric, or whatever – anything to avoid taking more cold showers. As a renter, I may have the “luxury” of not having to pay for water heater repairs or a new system, the experience does prepare me for when I do become a homeowner.
Having a plan in place will go a long way in reducing the stress of finding the right system for your home. There are a handful of criteria to consider from availability, costs, size, and efficiency of a system. Additionally, it is important to compare multiple options of water heaters before making a final decision. Reach out to your local utility or energy program administrator to help decide what water heater is best fit for your home. Lastly, while this blog focuses on smart, electric water heaters, do not feel limited to buying electric. If gas or propane systems are a more viable option, this simple checklist can still be used to find the most optimal system for your home. Be sure to research water heater controllers, as select controllers can be equipped on gas water heaters as well.
The checklist on the right is a simple guide on selecting a water heater. Check in with your local utility to see if they are offering programs, incentives, or rebates on smart, grid-interactive water heaters.
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