BTES’ Water Heater Program Keeps $1 Million per Year in Customers’ Pockets

To exceed customer expectations and keep up with changing technologies, BTES continues to look for ways to improve existing services and programs for BTES customers. The BTES Water Heater Program, which first began in the late 1970s, is no exception. The original program, in partnership with TVA, involved installing a device on a water heater that would be able to turn the unit off during times when the electric load is at peak. This helped shift some of the electric load to lower-cost periods of use.

BTES’ load-managed water heater program has been highly successful for BTES and its customers. In addition to saving energy and money, customers who have a BTES water heater and load management switch receive a free warranty on elements and thermostats, and a six-year warranty on the water heater tank when a new water  heater from BTES is installed. Customers also receive certain free emergency service calls as long as the load-management switch is in proper working condition, replacement parts are readily available, and BTES is still participating in the cycling program.

Effective for the technology that was available at the time, this system managed water heaters with a load-management device as one large group, but it was incapable of collecting feedback data and shifting water heaters individually.

After the built of the fiber-optic network in 2005, it became apparent that it was possible to develop a new technology to improve the program and interact with water heaters on an individual basis. This new technology included developing and installing a WISE (Water Heater Information Solution for Energy) switch that monitors temperatures and has the capability to turn a water heater off and on individually. This helped BTES expand the use of the program while reducing the number of customers running out of hot water.

 “BTES currently has approximately 7,000 of the WISE switches in service and approximately 10,000 of the original TVA switches in service,” explained Browder. “Since the TVA water heater management system is becoming obsolete and unreliable over the long term, TVA has given BTES 36 months to transition from the old units to the WISE switches. TVA has agreed to keep the old system operational unless major problems occur and then BTES may repair until September 2018.”

The Water Heater Program has saved $20 million on BTES’ power bill since its inception. The new program saves approximately $1 million a year. If BTES had not developed and installed the new WISE Switch, they would have to discontinue this program and raise electric rates to offset the $1 million a year.

BTES' Management Response to the Special Investigation Report dated April 13, 2016 and was published by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury can be found here.