Due to years of ongoing rulemakings at the Department of Energy (DOE), increasing restrictions have been put on manufacturers regarding the manufacture of large (over 55 gallon) electric resistance water heaters. In 2010, DOE created a rule that outright banned their manufacture, which left the only option available for large electric water heaters to be heat pump. While heat pumps are great products where they work (they have limited functional abilities in retrofit scenarios, in cold climates, and for load management programs), limiting access to these products creates problems for cooperatives and their member-consumers.

As a result, in 2015, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the national service organization for more than 900 not-for-profit rural electric cooperatives throughout the United States, successfully lobbied Congress for legislation to create a “grid-enabled” water heater classification. The legislation allows a grid-enabled water heater to be produced and used, as long as it is part of a load management program. Grid-enabled water heaters are essentially the same as large residential electric resistance water heaters, but have an activation lock per the legislation’s requirements. The “activation lock” requires use of a simple key to allow the bottom element of the water heater to operate. The activation lock is part of the legal definition of a grid-enabled water heater, because it ensures that the water heater will be used in a load management program.

This legislative relief guarantees that cooperatives will be able to use large electric resistance water heaters in their load management programs into the future.