GE hybrid electric water heaterThis is promising:  Ecogeek reports on a new GE water heater that could cut energy consumption in half.  The trick:  it uses a heat pump to preheat the water coming into the tank.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the magic of heat pumps before. Start with a glass of lukewarm water, and a heat pump can turn it into a half glass of warm water, and a half glass of cold water, in a process that takes less energy than warming up a half cup of water on a stove top.  If done right, heating your home with a heat pump—particularly one that draws heat from water that’s circulated underground—can be more climate-friendly than even the most efficient gas furnace.  So this new heater is really just an application of a tried-and-true technology, but in a slightly new way.

The heater isn’t commercially available yet, but the announcement coincided with the release of new  Energy Star ratings for hot water heaters.  (Both press releases were dated April 1, but I don’t think anyone’s pulling my leg here…)  Obviously, it’s a little premature to rave about a technology that’s not even available in stores yet.  After all, nobody knows whether the technology will pan out, or whether any increased sales cost will be worth the energy savings. 

Still, the announcement is a useful reminder:  there are loads of efficiency opportunities left out there, and we don’t have to wait for radically new technologies to capitalize on them.  Heat pumps, have been around since the days of Lord Kelvin; and household water heaters consume more electricity than home lighting. Still, it’s taken over 150 years to put the two needs together. 

If I had to guess, there are plenty of similar opportunities out there—energy-saving technologies that are perfectly obvious, and are just crying out for a little bit of capital and engineering muscle.  (For instance:  why doesn’t my fridge connect to the outside world?  In wintertime, there’s plenty of cold air for free, just outside my window.  In summertime, the hot air from the fridge’s air pump gets recirculated into my already-overheated house.  Seems like a problem looking for a solution.  Any takers?)