Storage heaters are a smart way to use electricity
Like it or not, time-of-day electricity prices are here to stay. And having to pay more for power during peak periods means higher electric heating bills because most household heating happens when power costs are higher. All this is why I’ve been expecting storage heaters to hit the market in a big way, and this movement has now begun.
Storage heaters consume electricity at cheaper times of the day and enable heat output to happen later, without using electricity when rates are higher. What I didn’t expect is how much smarter the best modern storage heaters have become.
Most people hate time-of-day billing, but contrary to appearances, electric utility CEOs don’t sit in ivory towers devising ways to inch us all toward personal bankruptcy. There’s a legitimate reason time-of-day billing exists.
Would you really expect to pay the same for blueberries in February as you do in August? Of course not. It simply costs more to grow berries in Chile and fly them up here in a blizzard than it does to grow them in Canada and drive them by truck to grocery stores in season. This same pattern of cheap versus costly production happens with electricity, too, except the pattern isn’t seasonal, it’s daily.
Since it costs more for utilities to generate electricity when demand is high, we should pay more to cover that added cost. None of us likes paying more, of course, and utilities would much rather have us use as little electricity as possible during peak times. But the only way they can send this unwelcome economic signal is by time-of-day pricing.
The real hope is not just that we’ll choose to use the clothes dryer on weekends and early mornings (as economical as this can be), but that we’ll also make technical changes to shift demand from peak periods toward off times. Storage heaters are one of the largest single parts of this evolution.
Storage heaters use electricity to heat internal bricks when power is cheap, then switch off and radiate that heat to the surrounding room during peak-rate times. All else being equal, this can save about 50 per cent in energy costs, depending on the time-of-day pricing schedule where you live.
The Ecombi electric storage heater is one of the first of its kind in Canada, and it’s effective in ways I hadn’t thought of before. Made by a Spanish firm called Elnur, the Ecombi heaters are handled in Canada by Coldbrook Electric Supply, in Nova Scotia (ecombi-northamerica. com; 902-679-0535).
I’ll be running full performance trials on Ecombi heaters later this winter, and their smart controls are the thing I’ll be looking at most. This European system heats the internal bricks only as much as needed to handle expected heat output the next day, and that’s vital.
What’s the point in overheating internal bricks of a storage heater at night, only to have the unit overheat the room the next day? That’s why heat storage within the heaters needs to match total anticipated heat output required to keep the room warm the next day, but not more than that.
The Ecombi system learns how fast a room cools off over time and heats the internal bricks accordingly the night before to match the system’s forecast of daytime requirements. These units simply replace baseboard heaters, connecting to existing wiring.
Financial pain is one of the best drivers of change in society, and things like smart storage heaters are one of many ways we’re evolving to better meet reality. And in a country where, for months each year, it’s cold enough to kill you, more economical heating is always a smart thing.