Building with energy in mind

Dakota Electric Association, in partnership with Great River Energy, is conducting a pilot project utilizing grid-integrated water heaters that will have advantages for both consumer and cooperative.

Country Joe Homes of Lakeville, Minn., is collaborating with the two cooperatives to install grid-interactive electric thermal storage (GETS) water heaters in 81 homes in the Legacy 2 housing development in Lakeville, served by Dakota Electric Association.

GETS water heating is the integration of intelligent and real-time control signals with enhanced electric thermal storage (ETS) water heaters. It is essentially one big “thermal battery” that can store electricity in the form of hot water that is heated during preferential times of the day or night, or as indicated by needs of the grid. Delivery of energy from these “smart” water heaters occurs as needed to maintain consumer comfort.

Each home in Dakota Electric’s pilot project has an 80-gallon Steffes Hydro PlusTM water heater, manufactured by Steffes Corporation. The Hydro Plus represents an advancement over typical 80-gallon thermal storage water heaters by using built-in technology that allows rapid two-way communication between the appliance and utility. This monitors the precise quantity of the heater’s water levels at any given minute, ensuring no one runs out of hot water.

Country Joe Homes installed the first GETS water heater in its model home this spring. The remaining 80 homes will be built from 2017 to 2019 and will be the first community storage development of its kind in Minnesota.

Utilities have long been faced with the challenge of balancing electric generation with consumer demand. Electric water heaters account for up to 40 percent of the residential demand on the world’s energy grids.

“Affordable and effective energy storage is very beneficial to us, our members and the grid for balancing supply and demand in ‘real time,’ and to maintain power grid stability,” said David Reinke, energy and member services manager at Dakota Electric Association. “We look forward to getting information on this project by the end of next year and using it to educate other electric cooperatives throughout the country on the challenges and successes of GETS water heating.”

In addition to the ETS resources, Dakota Electric and Great River Energy will work with Country Joe Homes to install electric vehicle chargers, advanced air source heat pumps, Wi-Fi thermostats, comprehensive LED lighting technologies and energy efficient appliances where possible.

“This development will provide a glimpse into what is possible when new housing developments combine advanced electric technologies and communications to shape end-use load curves that can better utilize variable generation resources, like wind and solar,” said Jeff Haase, Great River Energy’s strategic energy and efficiency program representative.