Great River Energy helps to launch community storage initiative

While the introduction of the Tesla Power Wall was creating a stir in the electricity industry, Great River Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. and several partners were quietly working to show utilities that they already have storage capacity that most haven’t begun to tap.

Artwork courtesy of Peak Load Management Association

Artwork courtesy of Peak Load Management Association

The Minnesota generation and transmission cooperative had teamed up with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NRECA), Peak Load Management Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. (PLMA) and the Natural Resource Defense Council You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NRDC) to reveal the “hidden battery in the basement.”

“That is what the electric water heater is,” declared Great River Member Services Director Gary Connett.

‘Battery’ almost banned
With three decades of experience in load shaping with electric water heaters and more than 100,000 units currently under the utility’s control, Connett knows whereof he speaks. That extensive history with demand response is what led Great River to initiate the study on the storage potential of the common household appliance.

When the Department of Energy was revamping its efficiency standards, Congress was set to ban electric resistance water heaters with a storage capacity of more than 55 gallons. Great River worked tirelessly to overturn the ban, and the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 You are leaving WAPA.gov. ultimately included an exception for large water heaters.

“But that experience made us realize that we had work to do to make utilities understand how important this appliance is to their load management strategies,” recalled Connett. “It is even more so, now that we are being asked to integrate more variable resources into the power mix.”

Showing how it’s done
The long fight to save large water heaters also attracted the attention of the NRDC, an unlikely ally, Connett acknowledges. However, the utility and the environmentalists found common ground in the innovative use of water heaters to “store” renewable energy. The NRDC joined Great River, NRECA and PLMA to commission a study by the Brattle Group You are leaving WAPA.gov. economic consultants.

The six-month study evaluated several strategies familiar to Great River, using two types of water heaters—electric resistance and heat pump units—both of which the utility has on control programs. The electric thermal storage strategy involves heating water at night when electricity is cheaper. “And becoming greener over time,” added Connett. “As Minnesota moves closer to its 2025 goal of 25 percent renewables the percentage of green energy in the night time hours only increases.”

Peak shaving is another strategy, which curtails load during times of high demand on a limited number of days per year, usually in four- to eight-hour cycles. Great River has about 45,000 water heaters on its peak shaving program and 66,000 on the thermal storage program. “That’s 20 percent of all the water heaters on our system. How many utilities can say that?” Connett asked.

The study also looked at fast response, a way to provide balancing services in the form of quick load increases and decreases. “This strategy will be tremendously useful as utilities bring more variable generation onto their systems,” said Connett.

Proven right
The Hidden Battery: Opportunities in Electric Water Heating, You are leaving WAPA.gov. (pdf) the report resulting from the study, reinforced what Great River had already learned from years of water heater control. Depending on market conditions, the Brattle research shows that storage-enabled water heating could save the consumer as much as $200 annually. Based on that figure, payback for the appliance, associated control equipment and installation is five years.

The environmental benefits are significant too, as policy—and consumers—increasingly focus on clean energy and energy efficiency. Controlling water heaters not only saves homeowners money, but it reduces carbon dioxide emissions with the right power mix. As Connett noted, being able to shift electricity use to lower-cost generation in off-peak hours can increase the use of renewable resources like wind.

These findings were not so much a revelation as confirmation for Connett. “That validation was pretty exciting,” he admitted. “And now that storage is becoming more important to integrate variable generation, we will continue to move forward with our proven programs.”

Initiative to spread word
Shortly after the release of the report this January, the partnership behind it launched the National Community Storage Initiative to focus attention on opportunities to develop national, regional and local markets for electric storage technologies. American Public Power Association You are leaving WAPA.gov. and Edison Electric Institute You are leaving WAPA.gov. have added their endorsement to the initiative, too.

Similar to community solar projects, such programs would aggregate controlled residential appliances to build local energy-storage capability. In addition to giving utilities better control of their loads, these fleets could also potentially provide ancillary services. Connett noted that the new generation of “grid interactive water heaters” can be controlled over very short time intervals with nearly instantaneous response. “The market is driving manufacturers to develop smarter water heaters,” he said. “Utilities want more dynamic control, and manufactures are enabling that with Wi-Fi and global technology.”

Water heaters are not the only existing appliances that offer energy storage potential. Great River Energy also controls about 167,000 air conditioners and has 15,000 ceramic-block, electric thermal storage heaters on its system that could contribute storage capacity. “But the beauty of the water heater is that it is a year-round load,” Connett observed.

More smart appliances are in the pipeline, such as electric vehicles and the Power Wall. “There are plenty of opportunities coming up, but we don’t need to wait for new technology,” Connett said. “The water heater is here now, and this type of program is made for co-ops—it is collaborative, economical and innovative. It helps everyone on the system.”

Find out how your utility can get involved in the National Community Storage Initiative. And don’t forget to share your program with Energy Services Bulletin.

Electro-Tech Expo showcases efficient technology

For the 16th year, a Western customer and an investor-owned utility are teaming up to expose energy professionals in the Upper Great Plains region to cutting-edge equipment and systems and the latest in best construction practices.

US Chamber of Commerce Senior Policy Director Heath Knakmuhs spoke at the 15th annual Electro-Technology Expo last year. The event attracts policy makers as well as experts from across the electronics, construction and utility industries.

US Chamber of Commerce Senior Policy Director Heath Knakmuhs spoke at the 15th annual Electro-Technology Expo last year. The event attracts policy makers as well as experts from across the electronics, construction and utility industries. (Photo by Black Hills Power)

The 2016 Electro-Technology Expo  You are leaving Western's site. will take place, Jan. 21, 2016, at the Ramkota Best Western Inn and Convention Center in Rapid City, South Dakota. West River Electric Association You are leaving Western's site. of Wall, South Dakota, and Black Hills Power You are leaving Western's site. of Rapid City co-sponsor this popular event. Western also supports the Expo as a co-sponsor. UGP Energy Services Representative Georganne Myers said, “It’s a great place for our customers to network and learn so much in one day, and the price is affordable.” Admission to Electro-Technology Expo is $30, which includes qualifying code hours and continuing education credits.

Something for everybody
In fact, the Electro-Technology Expo is designed specifically to bring professionals together. This year’s Keynote Speaker is Mike Eggl, senior vice president of Communications and Administration for Basin Electric Power Cooperative You are leaving Western's site.. Vendors display state-of-the-art, energy-efficiency technology on the exhibit floor where utility program managers and contractors can inspect the equipment and get answers to their questions. Industry experts conduct workshops on topics of concern to power providers, facility managers and building industry professionals.

This year’s sessions include:

  • LED street and area lighting case studies – several sessions plus vendor booths
  • Demand management systems
  • Geothermal systems
  • Energy-efficient lighting technology
  • Home weatherization
  • Sustainability incentives
  • Electrical code classes (three sessions)
  • Motors and drives
  • Heat pump system troubleshooting
  • Hydronic in-floor heating systems
  • Changes in water heater regulations
  • Utility energy-efficiency program overview

Organizers distribute surveys at the end of the event to ask attendees for suggestions on future topics. “We start working on the next Expo the day after,” said Black Hills Power Energy Services Engineer Don Martinez.

Going strong
The value of the Expo shows in its enduring popularity. Attendance has grown over the years to more than 300 in 2015. Part of the growth has to do with an explosion of energy-related technologies. “Each year, attendees can count on seeing something new,” Martinez observed. “So much is happening in the industry, it can be hard to keep up. The Expo is a one-day crash course.”

The speaker roster is drawn mainly from vendors and suppliers, who have the opportunity to reach out to potential customers. Design and construction professionals; facility energy managers; building system specialists and real estate sales representatives, appraisers and inspectors can network with one another. Utility professionals get to meet with attendees from industries that have a profound effect on energy use.

The Expo planning committee has also built relationships with the local trade schools and school of mines. “It’s a chance to familiarize students with different aspects of the energy industry and let them know what kind of careers are out there for them,” Martinez explained. “The Expo is not a job fair, but connections happen,” he added.

Spreading efficiency
Putting on an event like the Expo is a lot of work that many utilities would consider beyond their scope. For Black Hills and West River, however, the Expo is a way to educate customers about equipment and practices that can reduce utility bills and operating costs. Getting trade allies excited about more efficient products to offer their customers has an upstream effect, as well, driving eventual market transformation.

The benefits of creating a forum for sharing information about energy-efficiency technologies and practices are significant enough to get a public power utility and an investor-owned utility to work together. “It is not often you see a joint effort between a public power utility and an IOU,” acknowledged Martinez. “But customer education is an important part of every power provider’s mission.”

For more information about the 2016 Electro-Technology Expo, on either attending or exhibiting, contact Jamie Hill at 605-721-2276.

APPA, NRECA applaud DOE move on water heaters

Electric utility groups are applauding the Energy Department’s (DOE) decision to reconsider a rule it issued last year that would limit the size of residential water heaters manufactured after April 2015.

In April 2010, the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency issued a final rule on energy conservation standards for residential water heaters. Electric utility groups feared the rule would interfere with demand-response programs in which consumers allow their utilities to control their water heater’s cycling based on grid conditions.

On June 6, DOE issued a request for information seeking comments on how the rule would affect utility programs that use high-storage-volume (above 55 gallons) electric storage water heaters to reduce peak electricity demand.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) Redirecting to a non-government site, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Redirecting to a non-government site, PJM Interconnection Redirecting to a non-government site and the Steffes Corp. Redirecting to a non-government site issued a statement June 12 applauding the DOE’s move to request more information on this issue.

“APPA is pleased that the Department of Energy has taken this important first step toward relieving the 2010 constraints imposed on electric water heaters in utility demand-response programs,” said President and CEO Mark Crisson. “Large-volume electric water heaters provide an environmentally friendly and cost effective means for utilities to improve overall system efficiency.”

NRECA CEO Glenn English concurred, noting that electric co-ops have relied on the energy storage capacity of residential water heaters to help manage demand on their distribution systems.

DOE will accept comments through July 13. Information on submitting comments can be found in the RFI. APPA encourages its members that have water heater programs to submit information. Read more.

DOE sets tough standards for home water heaters, other heating products

DOE has finalized higher energy efficiency standards for a key group of heating appliances that will together save consumers up to $10 billion and prevent up to 164 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the 30 years after they take effect. The new standards apply to residential water heaters, pool heaters and direct heating equipment such as gas fireplaces. The new standards will cut the energy use of large electric storage water heaters by 47 percent and of large gas-fired water heaters by more than 30 percent. The standards for water heaters will go into effect in 2015, while the standards for pool heaters and direct heating equipment—including gas-fired wall, floor, and hearth heaters—will apply to products manufactured in 2013 and beyond. On average, these products account for about 18 percent of the energy use in U.S. homes. Read more.