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Old 11-13-17, 11:41 AM   #1
Geo NR Gee
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Default Electric Company wants to hook up to my water heater

I just installed a new A.O. Smith heat pump water heater last week. Got the $800 rebate, so it came to about $250 out of my pocket. Then I received a letter saying they will give me $150 to hook up to my water heater. Is this a good idea? Here are the details....

Up to 600 residential electricity customers may participate in a smart water heater emerging technology demonstration project that enables better management of energy. A smart water heater is a water heater with a modular communication interface that will be able to receive and respond to demand response (DR) signals from utilities. By enabling the smart water heater to send and receive the utility's signals, the water heater can help support the grid. By changing the time when, and at what rate, it re-heats water the tank acts like a battery; controlling the re-heat rate has the same effect on the grid as storing or releasing energy from a battery. These small changes in when and how often water heaters run can be a valuable tool in grid management.

Renewable energy such as wind and solar is increasing on the electric grid. However, these intermittent generating resources create integration challenges for utilities. DR can be a cost effective tool to reduce customer's electricity demand for brief periods. It can also be used to help the grid absorb extra energy when needed. Using CTA 2045 communication technology, utilities are able to use the inherent energy storage capability of water heaters to smooth out the intermittent nature of renewable generation. Enabling this low cost communication port on every water heater in the Pacific Northwest could mitigate the cost of renewable integration and provide support to the electric grid.

​Participation Details
Participating in smart water heater demonstration will achieve the following:

Demonstrate that low-cost communication technologies can enable broad-scale DR
Facilitate better integration of low-carbon wind and solar power generation with the grid
Minimize the perceived impact of demand response (e.g., inconvenience, discomfort) to the residential customer
Provide data on the benefits of communicating water heaters to a reliable and low-cost grid
Provide feedback to product manufacturers on real-world applications
BPA’s goal for this demonstration project is to enlist a total of 600 households across all participating utilities. BPA seeks equal participation of residences with qualifying electric resistance water heaters (ERWH) and heat pump water heaters (HPWH). Eligibility requirements include:

Residential customers only
Single-family or multi-family residences
Primary residence that is continually occupied: no seasonal or vacation homes
Reasonable expectation of remaining at address for at least 12 months
Live in service territory of participating utility
Have an eligible water heater
AO Smith HPWH,
GE Geospring HPWH installed January 2014 or later, and
Specific AO Smith ERWH (tanks to be delivered for this project).
Strong radio reception of specific FM stations to be used in the project (Seattle/Tacoma: KJAQ 96.5, Portland: KINK 101.9, Eugene: KKNU 93.3, Wenatchee: KKRV 104.7 and KHNW 88.3)
Existing home Wi-Fi network that is continually available to the water heater, in order to:
Allows the utility-provided communication module to connect to the internet
Allow secure communication to the data collection server

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Old 11-13-17, 12:06 PM   #2
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I'd take the $150. The main sticky point that I read was the "It can also be used to help the grid absorb extra energy when needed." ..which means it will heat beyond the set temperature causing slightly higher standby losses temporarily and potentially use the heating element instead of the heat pump to do it, which could come at a slight cost to you.
I assume they wouldn't do this maliciously or even that often, even if it were to cost more over time I think the $150 would way more than offset this.

In my neighborhood we have an air conditioner switch that allows the utility company to temporarily shut off air conditioners in a rolling fashion to cut demand, usually 30 minutes at a time, but up to an hour I think in the contract and they can do it for up to 10 days in the summer. The fun thing is I've called the hotline for the program on almost every single day where we were forecasted to have over 90 degree weather and I have yet to have a control day. ..and my eGauge over the past three summers has shown zero air conditioner compressor cycling, which would be obvious because my air conditioner runs a single solid cycle during hot summer days. I figured that the utility company would make more use of the program to cut back on more expensive power purchases but apparently they are only really using it to prevent blackouts.
They chop about a cent off per kwh during the summer for being a part of the program.
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Old 11-16-17, 01:10 AM   #3
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You might be able to get savings from heating during off-peak hours, but generally this is already done through some sort of variable tarriff system, common in EU and AUS but not so much in the USA.

EDIT: I re-read it and it looks like this is whats happening, they want to give your water heater on-off signals so it runs when there is excess energy available from solar/wind. I would do it, free money. I would ask if the customer could set a 'preferred hot' period for when you usually take showers, so its not cold.
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Old 11-16-17, 07:48 AM   #4
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I'd pass. Security is my main reasoning. You will be allowing a government piece of equipment on your wifi network. Can you, without a shadow of a doubt, trust that they wont use their equipment to monitor anything else? Can you, without a shadow of a doubt, trust that someone cannot hack into that device and use it nefariously to monitor you?
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Old 11-16-17, 03:55 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by natethebrown View Post
I'd pass. Security is my main reasoning. You will be allowing a government piece of equipment on your wifi network. Can you, without a shadow of a doubt, trust that they wont use their equipment to monitor anything else? Can you, without a shadow of a doubt, trust that someone cannot hack into that device and use it nefariously to monitor you?
While a good portion of your paranoia is valid here, I think you're over-doing it a little.

I do recommend you setup a secondary wifi or ethernet network for any devices like this, because they do have the capability to snoop your regular traffic if they were compromised.

Ideally this would be a one-way only device, where it just recieves demand response info and acts accordingly. I can't understand why they would want positive record of its actual operation, they should just assume it is running as expected, and if it's not, you're going to know because it won't be making hot water. In reality it could be anything, so.

*EDIT*: I guess they would want to know exactly how much energy they could sink, so it would be advantageous to know if the device is requested to be running, but is not, because it is not needed.
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Old 11-17-17, 09:21 PM   #6
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Thanks for the comments....Would I get a second router, or connect their equipment up to the guest account on my original router?
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Old 11-18-17, 12:47 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Geo NR Gee View Post
Thanks for the comments....Would I get a second router, or connect their equipment up to the guest account on my original router?
A lot of routers can broadcast two SSIDs, you could click around in your router's firmware web-page to see if it has the capability, a lot of routers you can also flash with custom firmware to do this, but that may be a bit too much effort for the value.

Honestly you are probably OK these days; *most* services are wrapping sensitive data, or just all data, with encryption these days. Https is good enough as long as you're ok with the government being able to crack everything open.

And since late March of 2017 your ISP is already scooping every bit of your unencrypted traffic, and all of the metadata from your encrypted traffic anyways, thanks congress. So whatever, no point in trying to secure it until that gets repealed.

Just understand that for default WPA2 encryption everyone on the network is using the same encryption key, so anyone with access can view all otherwise open traffic on that network, and potentially mount open air attacks as well.
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Old 11-18-17, 10:15 AM   #8
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I'd do it. The caveat to that is that years ago I adopted allowing the utility to demand control my A/C unit, for which they are still rewarding me $9/mo between April and October. In retrospect, I should have jumped on that project earlier.

Setting up a side network using old network gear would be 100% doable. That traffic could ride along with my weather webcams. They can snoop the weather webcam traffic all they want.
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Old 11-20-17, 08:48 AM   #9
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I have only one reservation, and it is this:

They give you $150, and then attach this device to your water heater. How long does it stay there?

Do you get any kind of a break on your utility bill?

When I installed my water heater I also put on a timer, which while not doing the utility any favors, does give me a measure of control of when the water heater is putting a load on the system. It's for my good, not theirs.

I think the smart grid is a good idea, but the one-time payment sounds a little light to me if the device might be there for years.
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Old 11-20-17, 07:04 PM   #10
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Another problem with this scenario is that it *could* give the grid operator excessive control over grid demand and be used to manipulate energy markets like in CA energy crisis.

And while its purpose is ostensibly to sink solar/wind energy, they could be doing the opposite to drive the profits from solar and wind down.

It's always the possibilities that I'm concerned about.

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