Sustainability goals are evolving and expanding, influencing current product development and innovation trends within the water heating industry. Manufacturers must keep a constant ear to their customers’ needs and identify ways to update componentry, connectivity, and efficiency while still providing practical, reliable solutions. With that in mind, research and development efforts are at an all-time high as companies seek to navigate current customer demand and anticipate future needs — two significant goals at A. O. Smith and Lochinvar.

At the forefront of sustainability conversations is a strong push for decarbonization. Local government regulations are key driving forces behind this trend, but many businesses are also looking to adopt greener practices to meet their own companies’ or buildings’ sustainability goals. Engineers, contractors, and facility managers are now looking for greener products that fit a variety of applications. For most businesses, this is a welcome change as these advancements not only increase efficiency and lower utility costs but also protect our planet. 

Decarbonization Fuels R&D Efforts 

The water heating industry is no stranger to electrification and decarbonization. We understand that efficient products directly impact energy and cost savings. In many parts of the country, government regulations are advancing these trends by offering greater incentives and even mandating a certain amount of efficient equipment. To meet and exceed goals, reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions must be top priorities for both consumers and contractors. As a result, sustainable building guidelines, such as the U.S Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and WELL building certifications, continue to increase in popularity. These guidelines offer benefits for using efficient products and systems as sustainable solutions.

Figure 2. Lochinvar’s XRGI 25 Micro-CHP system.

To meet the evolving demand for sustainable water heating solutions, research and development efforts have also continued to increase. As part of these efforts, A. O. Smith Corp. opened its Lloyd R. Smith Corporate Technology Center (CTC) in 2018. The CTC, located adjacent to A. O. Smith’s world headquarters in Milwaukee, is a 42,700-square-foot research and development facility that serves as the company’s global innovation hub. A team of world-class engineers utilize the CTC’s resources, along with customer feedback, to conceive, test, and finalize core technologies, driving companywide innovation and technology developments.  

In keeping with their commitment to offer customers innovative and efficient solutions, A. O. Smith and Lochinvar both recently launched products that position sustainability center stage. Heat pump technology, high-efficiency commercial boilers with adaptive combustion technology, and water heaters offering as high as 99% thermal efficiency have been brought to market. These products work in concert to increase cost savings and decrease environmental impact. 

Products that Provide Energy and Cost Savings 

Cogeneration has also been a key player in the push for more efficient solutions. In 2019, Lochinvar launched the XRGI®25 Micro-CHP system, one of North America’s first commercial induction cogeneration systems capable of producing heat and power from the same fuel source. The unit leverages natural gas as a fuel, allowing a facility with a cogeneration system to produce energy-efficient heat for domestic hot water and electricity to reduce energy consumption and electric costs.

Figure 3. Lochinvar’s CREST Boiler with Hellcat combustion technology.

Smarter controls technologies allow for more real-time data, helping the units to operate more efficiently. When a call for heat occurs, the unit modulates to provide the amount of output needed to satisfy demand, eliminating wasteful short-cycling. Users can see how the unit is performing and make adjustments to further maximize energy savings. Lochinvar’s CREST® boiler with Hellcat™ Combustion Technology utilizes RealTime O2 Trim™ combined with Lochinvar’s Smart Touch™ control to intuitively adapt to its environment, including altitude, and adjust to accommodate peak demand, providing the most efficient operation available.

App-based solutions are becoming more common, making it even easier to save energy and track cost savings in real-time. Tools like the A. O. Smith Mobile App continue to advance to meet the needs of professionals who are looking to integrate a heat pump water heater into the growing number of utility smart grid programs. 

Figure 4. A. O. Smith’s commercial heat pump model features a 120-gallon capacity.

Heat pump technology is a natural fit for many customers looking for a smart solution in commercial projects. A. O. Smith’s CHP-120 fully integrated commercial heat pump water heater is Energy Star-certified and operates at a 4.2 coefficient of performance (COP). Implementing this technology allows for a more efficient way to heat water with electricity.

To keep in tune with current and potential industry trends and regulations, A. O. Smith has a policy and regulatory team specifically dedicated to understanding the most recent regulations and rebate/incentive opportunities. This team is closely connected to initiatives at the federal, state, and local government levels, so they are among the first to know when new legislation and regulatory actions are being proposed that could impact product development, and A. O. Smith and Lochinvar customers.

Innovating for the Future 

For decades, water heating manufacturers have had a very clear goal to create the most efficient equipment possible, but what happens when companies are hitting 97%-99% thermal efficiency? This is where componentry tops out and technology must tap in. Manufacturers need to continually push the boundaries of product development and ensure technology advancements keep up with multifaceted customer needs. 

Smart technology, high thermal efficiencies, and research and development continue to drive sustainability efforts, and behind innovative thinking, the water and space heating industry is set to thrive in the coming years.