It surprises most people to know that nearly 20 percent of home energy use is attributed to making hot water, costing the average U.S. household about $300 per year (PDF). While conventional gas heaters fair a bit better in energy use than their electric counterparts (about one-third of American homes use electricity to make hot water), both are hugely inefficient.
GE is hoping to capitalize on this major market opportunity by replacing old inefficient hot water waters with its new GeoSpring — a super hi-tech electric hot water heater that uses a heat pump to capture heat from the ambient air. A compressor concentrates that captured heat, reducing the amount of energy required to get the water to temperature by 62 percent.
I ran the numbers ... there are 80 million single-family homes in the U.S., and homeowners spend about $24 billion annually on hot water heating, generating an estimated 192 millions tons of CO2 (a typical home generates 12 tons of CO2 per year for energy use, 2.4 tons just for water heating). Theoretically, if the homeowner of every single-family home swapped out his old inefficient water heaters with a super-efficient water heater like GeoSpring, American families would save about $15 billion per year (how's that for an economic stimulus?) while eliminating 119 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year for the life of the unit.
The only problem is cost. The GeoSprings are not cheap, but right now thanks to energy stimulus grants, there are some really amazing rebates in place through the end of the year. If you are lucky enough to live in Tallahassee, your $480 federal credit can be paired with a $1,200 local rebate, completely offsetting the $1,600 sticker price.
One of the reasons I'm optimistic that the U.S. can do it's part to reduce global carbon emissions far in excess of the meager reduction proposed in the current clean energy bill, is that our building infrastructure is rife with wasted energy, the "low hanging fruit" as energy efficiency geeks call it. And major companies like GE are jumping in to help consumers make massive nationwide reductions like this one not only possible, but attractive.
Even without the government incentives, the investment of a GeoSpring would pay for itself in less than eight years through energy savings, and the remaining 20-30 years of the device's life would save that homeowner an additional $3,000 and cut the home's carbon footprint by 8-12 percent annually.
I would say that definitely counts as a bright idea.