The world is racing towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but the lack of sufficient storage capacity limits the ability to integrate intermittent power generation. At the same time, renters can’t participate in utility sponsored renewable energy programs, because they don’t have access to rooftop solar.
In fact, many renters pay high electric bills, taxes, and other fees to help modernize the electric grid without any direct benefit. Renters represent one-third of the US population, but they lack pathways to engage in renewable energy programs that offer incentives to homeowners who can afford solar and electric vehicles.
Transforming Energy Storage with IoT
However, Shifted Energy is changing this paradigm by retrofitting existing water heaters into grid interactive water heaters (GIWH). With Particle’s IoT platform, they essentially convert water heaters into batteries that act as demand response assets that can shift loads to reduce peak demand and help utilities stabilize the grid while integrating more renewable energy.
These grid interactive water heaters are connected to the Internet via Particle’s E SoM. By connecting these GIWH units to the Internet, utility companies can control the GIWH units to absorb solar power during the day to heat water. The hot water remains hot and can be used any time without consuming more electricity, thus lowering peak demand.
Connecting the grid to electric water heaters
There are many challenges to building an IoT device that can retrofit water heaters into demand response assets. Companies like Shifted Energy have been trying to solve this problem for almost a decade – how do you shift the 600 million water heaters that are already present in most homes into assets that manage energy, balance the grid, and pass along savings to residents?
Shifted Energy learned that they would need to accomplish the following if they wanted to develop this integrated hardware and software solution:
- Build a low-cost device that can retrofit existing and new electric resistance water heaters easily
- Create an end-to-end device that can provide accurate temperature awareness for maximum efficiency of grid capacity services
- Build a no-touch solution to minimize maintenance and liability from leaks, short-circuits, and other tank failures
- The overall solution must be cost-effective for utilities and charge no costs to participants/residents
- The end-to-end device must have low-connectivity costs (communications & data) matched by reliability of service
Building an end-to-end device that has low-connectivity costs (communications & data) was particularly important. Most water heater controls depend upon Wi-Fi connectivity, but this is not practical in large-scale deployments because it requires a constant and reliable data connection with resident’s home routers. They would need to build a cellular-connected IoT device so they could avoid the obstacles that come with often unreliable Wi-Fi connections.
The Solution — Shifted Energy’s Power Controller
Shifted Energy’s GIWH device is connected to the utility’s energy management systems through Particle’s E Series. The cost of maintaining these devices are low enough for companies to effectively engage millions of renters in grid modernization programs.
Shifted Energy’s Power Controller for GIWH
Shifted Energy’s no-touch solution is also designed around the benefits of IoT cellular communications. Shifted Energy learned that cellular-connected devices are easier to install because they require no onsite configuration. Mass installations can be arranged with property managers instead of interacting with each individual resident.
Energy Storage and Social Justice For Assisted Living Facilities
After installing and maintaining several GIWH pilots in Hawaii that used hardware from other providers, Shifted Energy found the operating and maintenance costs to be prohibitive for large-scale deployments of grid interactive water heaters. There were simply too many Wi-Fi glitches and failures of the underlying water heaters that required on-tank control systems to be removed, re-installed, and reconfigured. A scalable solution requires that the GIWH controller be removed from, and independent of, the underlying water heater maintenance cycle.
Shifted Energy’s Power Controller platform represents a new approach that integrates reliable, low-cost connectivity hardware with advanced software controls for cost-effective, rapidly scalable GIWH solutions. This is critically important for renters and other hard-to-reach communities like assisted living facilities.
In September 2018, Shifted Energy deployed the first fully-integrated GIWH retrofit solution in Hawaii at Manoa Gardens, and elderly assisted living facility. The five-year pilot program is backed by Hawaiian Electric and Hawaii Energy to demonstrate the economic viability of using GIWH devices as demand response assets to provide valuable grid services.
Through the ongoing pilot program, Shifted Energy demonstrates that its Power Controller platform responds to frequency deviations within fractions of a second. It also shifts loads to consume excess renewable energy and reduce peak demand. Importantly, an aging water heater was replaced without any intervention by Shifted Energy, and its Power Controller was able to reconfigure and commission the new tank automatically.
The Bottom Line
To learn more about Shifted Energy, you can visit their main website here. If you’re an organization that uses IoT for the public good, we want you to know that our Particle for Good program supports social initiatives like Shifted Energy’s unique Power Controller. We stand with innovators and their commitment to use the Internet of Things to drive positive social impact. If you want to make a difference with IoT, you can learn more about our Particle for Good program here.