Weekly Update

The connected water heater: The next energy saver in the home?

The success of connected thermostats in the smart home had much to do with Nest’s great design but also had a lot to do with the fact that heating and cooling is the greatest energy hog in the home. The thermostat has the greatest energy (and thus cash) return on investment.

But where else could connectivity create resource savings ? I’ve long wondered about pool heaters, particularly at larger university and public pools, and with growing awareness surrounding water scarcity, I think smart water metering could see its day over the next decade.

Still, if you look at the DOE data on energy use in the home, shortly after space heating and cooling, water heating comes in as the next biggest energy user in the home at 19 percent. And if you thought making a thermostat sexy was tough, how about a water heater?

McLean, Virginia based Sunnovations may not be able to make connecting your water heater sexy, but it is trying to show the way towards smart water heaters that could help reduce energy consumption. The company just launched a Kickstarter campaign for Aquanta, the name it’s given to the device that adds wifi connectivity to your water heater as well as a sensor that can accurately measure the energy being input to a water heater as well as the energy outflows.

The payoff for this connected sensor is that the data on energy in and energy out can be analyzed to show when power is being used by the water heater. More importantly, the software can get a read on the behavioral patterns of people in the home, like knowing that 6am to 8am is a peak time because everyone’s showering.

Water heaters are designed to keep the water in the tank at a set point at all times, regardless of usage. But if you know the behavioral patterns in a home, the cycling of the water heater can match that behavior. For example, if the water heater knows that no one uses hot water between 10am and 4pm, then it can let the water cool and save on energy. There’s also added value in that the sensor can act as a leak detector and for those parents wary of their children taking long showers, the app can quantify exactly what that 30 minute hot shower is costing mom and dad.

While Sunnovations can’t say yet what the exact energy savings on the Aquanta is, it did say that for an electric water heater, the payback period is 2-3 years and 4-6 years for a natural gas water heater. $75 bucks gets you the Aquanta on Kickstarter though it should sell for more than that once it hits stores.

Aquanta will have a stand alone controlling app, but CEO Matt Carlson tells me the vision is to integrate into platforms like Nest and iControl. The race is on among various platform providers from SmartThings to Nest to Apple’s HomeKit to capture as many third party devices within their ecosystem in order to further pull consumers into their overall mobile and web strategies.

Another potential fit for an energy conservation play like Aquanta is partnering with a utility. While utilities can be difficult to crack as they often require years of pilot data, it’s conceivable that connected water heaters could help out with residential demand response during power spikes. More generally, connected water heaters could become a part of home energy management bundles, along with thermostats and connected lighting.

For now, Sunnovations is using Kickstarter to raise some short term cash and build a following among early adopters for Aquanta. Connecting water heaters is unlikely to ever be exciting for consumers but as a part of larger initiatives to bring home energy management tools to the home, at the right price point it’s hard to argue that they don’t contribute to resource efficiency with a clear ROI.