A new heat pump water heater from GE, helped to market by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, could have major energy-saving implications for the Pacific Northwest region. 

By using heat-pump technology to absorb the heat from ambient air and transfer it to water, a GeoSpring heater can operate more efficiently than standard water heaters, while providing the same amount of water as a standard electric 50-gallon water heater,  says Dave Kresta, senior product manager of the emerging technology group at NEEA.

“It’s 69 percent more efficient compared to standard electric products and anywhere from 20-30 percent more than existing, already efficient, heat-pump water heaters,” he says. 

It also includes a new ducting kit which allows owners to apply ducting to both the input and the output sources for the heat pump, opening additional installation options, says Kresta.

“Because you can apply ducting, you can install it where you may not be able to install another water heater, like in a small utility room or a laundry room," he says. "The ducting capability is going to be pretty huge for flexibility. Homes are so different, and the current technology doesn’t necessarily fit into all homes.”

This installation flexibility may become increasingly important as federal standards for water heater efficiency grow more stringent, such as new efficiency standards going into effect in April 2015 for large-tank water heaters, and require many homes to utilize more efficient options. 

Energetic Alliance 
GeoSpring heat pump water heaters exceed the new federal standards, and is the first product to meet the highest tier of efficiency standards of the Northern Climate Specification (NCS) for manufacturers, developed in 2009 by NEEA and Northwest utilities.

“The goal of the NCS was really to guide manufacturers to develop heat pump water heater technology to address the whole market, including cooler northern climates,” Kresta says. 

While GE is the first manufacturer to meet the higher efficiency standard, Kresta doesn’t think they’ll be the last.

“We’re continuing to work with GE and other manufacturers, and we expect other products to have this efficiency level in the future as well,” he adds.

Heat-pump water heater technology is one of NEEA’s largest energy-saving efforts currently underway, due to its large potential impact for the region. If all of the homes in the Northwest that currently have electric water heaters (about 55 percent) used NCS-qualified heat pump water heaters, the region could save nearly 500 average megawatts by 2025—equivalent to powering all the homes in Seattle and Boise annually, NEEA explains.

Homeowners will see savings too; the product is expected to reduce annual utility bills by an average of $300-$400, Kresta says, and qualifies for state and local utility rebates and tax credits. GeoSpring heat pump water heaters will be available for purchase by suppliers in early 2015.