Bonneville Power Administration is testing a new kind of hot water heater in 40 homes across the Northwest as part of a national energy-savings experiment.
The hypothesis: Reverse refrigeration technology that extracts heat from the air can be used to warm household water, thereby reducing the amount of electricity needed to power hot-water heaters.
According to BPA, about 40 percent of homes in the Pacific Northwest have electric water heaters, and water heating accounts for 15 to 20 percent of electric energy use in those homes.
Hence, the regional power agency sees “substantial savings” in making water heaters more efficient. New heat-pump water heaters could shave water-heater energy consumption by 50 percent or more, BPA says.
BPA has partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and 11 regional utilities to test new heat-pump hot water heaters, which employ a 25-year-old technology that work like a refrigerator in reverse.
“While a refrigerator removes heat from an enclosed box and expels that heat into the surrounding air, a heat pump water heater takes the heat from surrounding air and transfers it to an enclosed tank to heat the water and then vents the cold exhaust air from the unit. While this results in some great cooling side benefits in hotter regions of the country, these field tests will determine their effectiveness in cold climates and their savings potential in the Pacific Northwest for this technology. …
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Sixth Power Plan calls for eight average megawatts of savings by replacing about 33,000 electric water heaters with heat pump water heaters within the next five years. The electricity savings would provide enough power for nearly 7,000 homes for a year.
BPA selected 11 public utilities to participate in the field test involving 40 single-family homes around the region. It’s part of a national test involving 160 homes. The projects will determine if the units provide energy efficiency in a real-life setting and how the family feels about the units operating in their homes. In addition, BPA is conducting lab tests to help provide data in a more controlled environment.”