How IoT is Changing the World of Water Heater Management

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How IoT is Changing the World of Water Heater Management

Several U.S. utility companies are piloting a recently released Internet of Things (IoT)-based solution that enables them to better control power load on their grid by detecting the temperature and voltage of each water-heating unit (Water Heater Management), and by allowing the units to be turned off when necessary via cellular or proprietary 2.4 GHz LAN connectivity.

The solution, provided by Apricity, located in Bend, Oregon, includes IoT-enabled water heater controllers known as Aras, installed inline, using the line voltage as a power supply. Each Ara comes with a built-in Nordic Semiconductor chip to transmit data regarding water heater temperatures and voltage via cellular WAN or 2.4 GHz LAN, as well as a built-in nRF9160 System-in-Package (SiP).
Apricity provides the connectivity and software required to collect and manage water heater data, if a utility request this. The Aras are deployed at both utility and federal sites for testing, in quantities of fewer than 100 units per test. Each entity (all of which have asked to be unnamed) has its own spin on demand response and data-monitoring needs, Apricity says. By its nature, power usage on the grid is uneven. At certain times of the day, energy consumption reaches a peak. The traditional approach for utilities has been to build enough power plants to provide the capacity to meet peak demands, but most of the day, that level of power isn’t required.
One alternative is a demand-response program by which the company could monitor energy consumption, as well as turn off less-critical devices to decrease the load during peak usage. Utilities use a demand-response program to change the power consumptions of a customer to match the demand for power on the entire grid. Energy companies are continuing to move toward demand-response models to reduce pressure on the grid.
For the past six months, utilities like Portland General Electric have been using the Areas for their demand-response programs to turn off each water heater according to peak demand, and to learn when water heater temperatures drop low enough that the units need to be turned back on. By automatically knowing when each water heater temperature drops below a pre-set temperature, the system can restart that heater, while also saving energy consumption during the unit’s downtime. Apricity is an engineering and product-design agency.

Our team is passionate about creating quality products that stand the test of time,

says Jacob C. Betcher, the firm’s COO. The Ara solution was designed to help customers respond to power demand, he says, adding,

Energy consumption on the grid is very uneven.

However, many demand-response solutions are challenged with connectivity issues when sending data from residences wirelessly. Many water heaters are in basements, where cellular connectivity is limited. And while some solutions use Wi-Fi as connectivity, that often requires the installation of a Wi-Fi access point, which can be challenging for the utility to maintain.

Author: Tim Cole
Image Credit: Apricity

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