NB Power is looking for customers in the Greater Fredericton area who are interested in participating in a pilot project this fall involving electric thermal storage units.

The technology could eventually replace electric baseboard heaters and better heat the homes of New Brunswickers, says the utility's head of customer engagement, Norma McCarthy.

Electric thermal storage (ETS) units can be charged during non-peak hours and use bricks to store the heat until it's needed, she said.

NB Power hopes the units could help shift demand away from peak hours and fossil fuel plants, said McCarthy.

"We can heat this up to very hot temperatures, they actually are capable of holding heat for up to 48 hours so if you can imagine if we can actually shift the time when you actually consume the electricity, but you always have heat available, it provides us that opportunity to actually, as I said, reduce greenhouse gases, so fossil fuels, and better integrate renewables like wind."

The units are already popular in Europe, but are new to New Brunswick, said McCarthy.

Older models tested in Nova Scotia

Older models have been tested in Nova Scotia and people there who have tried them say they give off a comfortable heat, similar to wood, she said.

The electric thermal storage units NB Power is using in the pilot are newer than the ones used in Nova Scotia, are sleeker and have more advanced communication technology, said McCarthy.

The units, which will communicate with NB Power wirelessly via the customer’s high-speed internet through secure, two-way communication, will allow the utility to "shift" when the ETS room heater charges to coincide with patterns of the wind.

Based on the customer’s temperature setting, an internal fan will take heat from the bricks and discharge it into the room when required.

When fully charged, the units are capable of delivering continuous heat for up to 16 hours.

"We want to be able to totally understand how it works, what's involved, how the customers respond to it, and working with the programmable portion of it, and the wireless communication to send signals, and learning how it shifts," said McCarthy.

"So it's important to get all that figured out with what we call our uber friendlies, or some of our employees who are volunteering at first."

No cost to participate

About 100 people, primarily NB Power employees, have signed up for the pilot to date, said McCarthy. But the utility is still looking for more.

Participants must have high-speed internet and use electric baseboard heaters as their primary heat source, she said.

"We actually know the units themselves cost more than typical baseboards, but what we’re trying to evaluate is the total install cost and what kind of programs we can introduce to help with the cost difference. Maybe it’s a discount, or we rent them, or it’s a different rate for charging them at night, but we’re just at the beginning now and we’re just trying to work this out and that’s why we’re asking our customers to join us in this pilot."

There is no cost to participants, said McCarthy. NB Power will provide and install up to three ETS units and provide free warranty and repair service up until March 23, 2023.

If the customer opts out before then, NB Power will no longer provide warranty and repair service, but the customer will retain ownership of the equipment.