Replacing Furnace with Electric Thermal Storage Heating Unit Cuts Energy Costs by 48%

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Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) heating system safer than gas furnace yields projected ROI of 29 months.

Facility managers everywhere are increasingly held accountable for trimming operating expenses—and plant energy costs rank high on the list because of their geometric increase over the past year. Rather than stick with a furnace that requires persistent maintenance and draws energy during peak demand periods, some managers are replacing aging gas furnaces with electric thermal storage (ETS), with documented cost-savings of up to 48% and rapid payback.

Facilities that rely on a furnace using fossil fuels for heating, that previously felt immune to electrical peak-demand charges, now face a "sticker shock" of their own as stratospheric leaps in the price of natural gas and liquid propane make a mockery of any attempts to reduce energy costs.

For some commercial users the "demand" component of an electric bill can represent approximately 55% or more of overall electric costs. To rein in these surcharges, many energy managers have already installed load management controllers. Yet, such strategies can only reduce energy usage in real time, causing painful sacrifices such as subdued lighting or reduced comfort heating during normal working hours.

So effective are ETS strategies in lowering monthly heating costs, that any initial outlay for the installation of the ETS system can be quickly recouped (http://www.steffes.com/downloads/pdf/thermelect_brochure.pdf). When positioned against the expense of replacing an aging furnace or fueling a gas furnace or a propane furnace, today's competitively priced electric thermal storage systems make better economic sense while providing a safer, more reliable and less maintenance-intensive solution.

One facility that used ETS as a space heating and demand-management tool was the Arena de Lachenaie. Serving the town of Lachenaie, Quebec as a regional hockey rink.

"When it got very cold outside, say minus 20° C and lower, the furnace couldn't keep the inside temperature at even 12°," recalls Sylvain Grise, Director of Sports Complexes for Terrebonne, Inc., the management firm for the arena. "At those temp's the ice gets too crisp and the participants too cold; and if my clients are not at ease, it's possible that they won't come back next year."

Since its completion in 1992 the arena had been using a gas furnace for heat, and by 2004 the aging unit needed replacement. With the price of methane reaching 55 cents/m3 (Canadian) for each of the calculated 13,600 cubic meters it took to warm the arena each year, heating costs had soared to approximately $7,400 (Canadian) annually and Grise was open to making the switch to electric heating.

After several months of operation, the new unit is already on track to significantly diminish operating costs. According to Hydro-Quebec’s calculations, one of the largest energy distributors in the world, the annual cost of using electricity to provide an equal amount of comfort heating¾as compared to the old gas furnace that cost $7,400 in fuel¾will drop to only $3,890 (annual electric consumption of 100,000 kWh at 3.89 cents/kWh, Tariff M, first segment).    

"The new electric thermal storage heating system met our needs because it seems to be more in balance," observes Grice. "Also, the ETS device is less dangerous compared to a gas furnace."

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Joe Rothschiller