The Bonneville Power Administration has worked for over a decade to develop and install more efficient water heaters in the Northwest. Now, BPA’s work in this sector – a source of significant carbon and energy savings – is being promoted by the White House and Department of Energy. They recently announced support for a new nationwide campaign that will build on BPA’s work to drastically cut carbon emissions and energy use from heating water by using advanced heat pump technology.
The Advanced Water Heating Initiative that BPA supports will drive the transformation of the water heater market across the United States. The goal of this effort is to phase out inefficient water heating products and replace them with clean, efficient heat pump models over the next decade.
For the last decade, BPA Energy Efficiency engineer Robert Weber has worked to develop a “plug-and-play” approach to deliver multifamily central heat pump water heater systems into the market. BPA became an early national leader in this emerging technology, thanks to its investments in technology innovation and market transformation. Before this work, scalable central heat pump water heater solutions didn’t exist in the marketplace. The Energy Efficiency organization figured out how to get the products available, but the Pacific Northwest market wasn’t big enough to motivate manufacturers to adopt this new technology. A few years ago, California passed new energy conservation policies, which created a huge market for this technology. The size of California’s market created new opportunities to encourage market transformation. BPA joined the West Coast AWHI effort in 2019, brought funding, and led the central system/multifamily portion of the initiative.
Heat pump water heaters are game-changing products that are two-to-four times more efficient than conventional water heaters.
“Since BPA is a regional utility, we couldn’t take this initiative national, but the DOE could,” says Weber.
DOE asked BPA to represent its interests in this effort. With the department’s funding and BPA’s legwork, this month the Biden administration noted AWHI’s efforts to address climate change, recognizing it as the best in the field and as a model to scale nationally.
“DOE’s support for AWHI is significant. They reviewed the efforts of many organizations and asked us to help the Biden administration meet its goals for heat pump deployment and climate change,” says Keshmira McVey, program manager for Emerging Technologies. “This work builds upon the expertise BPA has developed over many years here in the Northwest. Now BPA and AWHI are sharing that expertise nationally.”
“As a silent partner, you won’t see BPA’s name in the limelight, but it’s rewarding to know we played a foundational role in helping this effort go national,” added Weber.
Now, the AWHI is a nationwide collaboration of utilities, federal agencies, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, manufacturers, engineers, installers, advocates, researchers and building industry professionals.
Why is this so important to the region?
“Multifamily water heating is one of the biggest gaps in the BPA portfolio,” says McVey. “Bringing these products to market is a big win for BPA’s utility customers.”
Water heaters generally last 10-15 years, which means that by 2035 all water heaters currently in use will likely need to be replaced. By choosing cleaner, more energy efficient heat pump models, U.S. households would save over 100 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year. The AWHI is working to realize these savings by growing the market share for heat pump water heaters, effectively cutting carbon emissions that are fueling climate change.
In addition to the carbon savings, new heat pump water heaters that are also equipped with smart technology have tremendous benefits to the electric grid, with a demand response potential from 20 to 40 gigawatts. Demand response technology allows grid operators to adjust the output of specially equipped appliances, reducing energy use at times of peak demand while still providing user comfort. Water heaters are utility-friendly demand response devices.
“Central systems in multifamily properties are a gold mind for demand response,” says Weber. “The storage volume is hundreds or thousands of gallons, which is really valuable to utilities for load shifting to off-peak hours.”
BPA will continue to work closely with stakeholders to develop regional solutions that support both technology innovation and accelerate the deployment of heat pump water heaters in American homes.
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