Industry Warms Up to Community Storage

NRECA’s Keith Dennis explains community storage.
NRECA’s Keith Dennis explains community storage. (Photo By: Denny Gainer)

Think of your water heater. Is it in your basement in a dark corner with cobwebs hanging off the bottom?

Thanks to new NRECA research, it could be time to bequeath a new status to water heaters as an inexpensive way to improve energy efficiency and save consumers money. Also meriting a second look for savings are electric vehicles and electric heat pump-operated appliances, such as space heaters.

It’s counter to everything people used to tell us about conversation—that using more electric appliances can improve energy efficiency and save money,” conceded Keith Dennis, senior principal of end-use solutions and standards at NRECA.

“The conventional thinking has been using more electricity is not the environmental thing to do,” Dennis said. “The rule of thumb for some environmentalists has been that if you can put a gas water heater in, put it in.”

Dennis explains the concept in a peer-reviewed article “Environmentally Beneficial Electrification: Electricity as the End-Use Option” that ran late last year in The Electricity Journal.

Why are electric appliances better for the environment? There are several reasons, Dennis said:

Better efficiency standards. Heat pump space and water heating technology can be 200 percent or more efficient at converting electricity into heat. Water heaters also are made with more insulation to keep water hot for longer periods of time.

Potential to store renewable energy. Solar panels make electricity only when the sun shines and wind turbines when the wind blows. Water heaters can use that electricity immediately and heat water for later use. “You’re going to be using hot water anyway. We will store energy in there and when you take a shower, it will be available for you,” said Dennis.

Greener electricity generation. Utilities are changing fuel portfolios to use sources emitting less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Load control potential. Many electric co-ops have load control programs to help members manage the flow of power. “By allowing the utility to control the water heater, you can save consumers money by avoiding energy use at times when it is most expensive and by storing energy at times when it cheap,” said Dennis.

Water heaters are “a critical load” for co-op member-owners, said Dennis, comprising about nine percent of residential energy use.

The idea that using electric appliances can improve energy efficiency and save money is gaining traction in the scientific community, said Dennis.

“Lawrence Berkeley National Lab said the key to meeting greenhouse gas emissions goals are widespread electrification of passenger vehicles, building heating and industry heating,” said Dennis. “And Stanford University said one potential way to combat climate change and eliminate pollution is to run everything on clean renewable energy

NRECA’s Community Storage Initiative has added more than 25 supporting organizations, including the Edison Electric Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Peak Load Management Alliance.

Participating organizations share information and coordinate efforts to promote the concept that electricity through the use of energy-storage technologies, including electric water heaters and electric cars—are best for the environment.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.