Wind and sun are fickle, so Steffes plugs into technology to store renewable energy

Steffes Corporation, a diverse manufacturing company based in North Dakota, is on a mission to produce innovative products that make renewable energy more reliable. But that task becomes a whole lot more complicated when the energy sources they depend on – wind and sun – are unpredictable.

“Renewable energy is a wonderful thing, but all of our main renewable sources are variable,” says Paul Steffes, CEO, president and chairman. “The sun comes up, clouds come out, wind comes up, wind goes down. And so we need vast amounts of flexible resources and affordable energy storage to reach high usage of renewable energy.”

So Steffes designed electric water heaters that leverage the cloud to serve as a giant, community battery. The company collaborated with Mesh Systems, which built the solution in Microsoft Azure to connect each heater, allowing information to flow from the devices to the cloud to the grid operator.

In the U.S. alone, there are 45 million electric water heaters. If utilities connect those devices to the cloud, forming an enormous battery that keeps wind turbines spinning and stabilizes the grid, the nation would gain the equivalent of more than 200 clean power plants, Steffes says.

“We have this need to make a difference in the world, and technology is helping us do that.”

Read our feature to learn how Steffes and Mesh Systems are turning humble household water heaters into a cloud-based power network fueled by wind and sun.