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Steffes Reaches for the Holy Grail of Efficient Water Heating with Origin

Steffes reaches for the Holy Grail of efficient water heating with Origin

To realize the full benefits of electrifying the U.S. economy, water heating in millions of homes must be converted from gas or propane to efficient electric technologies. And converting multi-family buildings to efficient heat pump water heating is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of residential electrification—an objective of great value which is very difficult to attain. Barriers include space constraints, lack of access to capital, lack of incentive for landlords to install heat pump water heaters (HPWH) in individual units and the complexity of designing and installing a central HPWH system.

New technology being piloted by Steffes Corporation in Bayview Tower Apartments—a 100-unit low-income apartment complex in Seattle—appears to solve the complexity problem, and energy experts are optimistic about its potential. “Steffes’s Origin is a first-of-its kind packaged heat pump water heating system for multi-family buildings that dramatically reduces the risks for the designer, installation contractor and owner,” said Jon Heller, president of research and engineering consulting firm Ecotope.

“Commercial and multi-family heat pump water heaters have been around for a long time, but they’ve made almost no impact on the marketplace due to the intensive engineering work required,” said Heller, whose firm provided design and engineering support for Origin. “Before Origin, manufacturers only sold heat pumps for custom-engineered installations, which meant that design engineers had to select and size the heat pumps, the storage tanks, piping schematics, control systems, and integration of backup heating.”

“With Origin, Steffes works with the designer to select proper system sizing, then delivers the entire system, complete with Mitsubishi heat pumps, ready to install,” said Heller.

“This kind of plug-and-play central heat pump water heating system is exactly what is needed to serve multi-family housing in the Northwest,” agreed Keshmira McVey, program manager for emerging technologies at the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which funded portions of the Bayview Tower pilot project. “Systems like Origin can also provide robust demand response resources. And we like the fact that Origin uses carbon dioxide instead of other higher global warming potential refrigerant gases.”

To encourage other multi-family building owners and developers to adapt technology such as Origin, BPA helped fund a virtual tour of the Seattle apartment complex. McVey also recommends the central HPWH system sizing tool developed by Ecotope. “More tools are available for those who want to learn about these systems,” she said, noting that San Diego Gas & Electric and D+R International have free on-line training available until the end of 2021.

From its headquarters in a small town on the plains of North Dakota, Steffes has developed a global reputation for designing and building electric heating and water heating systems with thermal storage—a capability that is essential to enable the transition to renewable electricity. With Origin, the firm has built on its specialty expertise to create a system that will make heat pump water heating a viable technology for millions of apartments and other multi-family dwellings.

Ecotope’s Heller is anticipating strong demand for Origin in the Pacific Northwest and California, driven by increasingly aggressive energy codes and prohibitions on natural gas in new buildings in many communities.

Beneficial Electrification League congratulates Steffes on its achievements with Origin and thanks the firm for its Gigawatt Sponsorship and looks forward to future collaboration.