Pilot Project Will Test Water Heaters As "Batteries"

Historically, the Columbia River hydrosystem has enabled operators to adjust energy up or down to keep load and generation in balance. But with more wind generation coming on line, which can fluctuate quickly, planners are looking at different options to add flexibility to the system.

The Council's regional energy plan recommended exploring the possibility of demand response programs to accomplish this.

One such example is a pilot project to test the use of water heaters, space heaters, and refrigeration warehouses as "batteries" of sorts, which the Council will hear more about at its upcoming meeting.

"As far as I know, it's the only test that's ever been done in North America, and perhaps the world," says Ken Corum, senior economist for the Council.

The project will help determine if the mechanisms installed actually operate as planned to manage the storage and release of electricity in the necessary timeframes without affecting service to customers.

The test water heaters are customized with mixing valves to add cooler water to hot water and controls to monitor electricity use.

"There are over 3 million electric water heaters in the region. That's about 1/2 a kilowatt for each water heater," notes Corum. The potential added reserve is roughly 1,500 megawatts, which is more than what the Bonneville Power Administration holds now.

Bonneville is providing the major funding for the project, which should provide useful information a year from now. The Council is also a contributor. Project participants include Ecofys, EnerNOC, Spirae Inc., Pacific NW National Lab, and the Steffes Corporation.