The Networked Water Heater

With an increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, stabilization of the grid becomes increasingly important. That is, a sunny, windy day has the potential to produce excess electricity that will not be there come evening. Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) is solving that problem with the help of its customers, their respective water heaters, and some clever technology that has effectively created a distributed battery.

MEC’s Interruptible Water Heating offering is one of several of their “Load Management” offerings.¹ The concept is simple. When electricity production exceeds demand (e.g., a sunny day), MEC turns on the water heaters that are part of this program. At times when demand needs to be reduced, MEC shuts off power to the water heaters.

As MEC’s website explains, they “generally control water heaters three to four times each month for three to four hours.” Of course, the customer never loses access to the hot water stored in the tank. As Candy Riem, VP of Marketing, Member & Information Services, MEC, explains in the above interview, customers are not even aware when the power is turned off.

She indicates that customers love the service, as they get a discount on their respective bills. It is a win-win, as it reduces MEC’s marginal electricity cost, which helps put a lid on rates for of its members. With all the talk of the need for energy storage as the grid comes to rely on intermittent power sources, it is refreshing to see this small midwestern cooperative setting the example for larger utilities.

¹ Other MEC programs include Interruptible Heating and Cooling, Interruptible Irrigation, Whole Home Generator, and Time of Use.

² This video was made possible by Calix.

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