ORNL, GE Collaborate on High-Efficiency Water Heater
A collaboration between ORNL and General Electric will result in the manufacturing of a "hybrid" electric water heater that consumes half the energy of standard models while providing hot water in the quantities homeowners demand. The product will be the first water heater from a major manufacturer that meets the new 2009 DOE Energy Star standards for electric storage water heaters.
"The typical electric storage water heater raises the temperature of the water in the storage tank using only electrical heating elements," says Patrick Hughes, the Director of ORNL's Building Technologies Research and Integration Center. "The new heat pump water heater moves heat from the surrounding air into the water tank, thus requiring much less electricity from a power plant to heat the water."
GE initially was attracted to the partnership by ORNL's reputation as a leader in the field of energy efficiency. "ORNL has been doing research on heat pump, or ‘hybrid,' water heaters for at least a decade," says Hughes. "GE periodically scans the horizon for new technologies to use in their appliances. They read our research and visited Oak Ridge to meet our team and tour our facilities."
As a result of subsequent collaboration, one of the world's leading companies was able to take advantage of ORNL's unique testing facilities. "We have a lab capable of performing accelerated durability testing on a fleet of water heaters," Hughes says. "About 10 months of operation in our facility is the same as 10 years of service life. GE made a number of design changes related to the appliance's durability, performance and controls as a result of this testing."
Hughes is optimistic that hybrid water heaters will catch on with consumers. "GE is one of the strongest brands in the world," he says. "High volume enables affordable pricing, which in turn gives GE the ability to shift a large share of the electric storage water heater market to hybrid electric water heaters."
The Department of Energy estimates that if just 10 percent of the nation's 4.8 million annual electric water heater shipments were heat pump water heaters meeting Energy Star standards, the 480,000 units would reduce power consumption by nearly 1.3 billion kilowatt hours and save consumers $130 million in energy costs annually.
An added incentive for consumers comes in the form of federal energy efficiency tax credits that will cover 30 percent of the total installed cost of these water heaters—if they are placed in service between now and 2016. The units will be available to consumers by the end of calendar year 2009. An additional manufacturing plant is scheduled to open in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2011, creating an estimated 400 jobs.
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