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I'm trying to control the temperature of water heated electrically.

On devices sold commercially I see that temperature is not being controlled, and the heating elements are either turned on or off (based on the feedback from some thermostats), probably because it is expected that the hot water will be mixed with cold water afterwards.

For a project I need to control the temperature of the water by controlling a heating element, using a power around 5KW - 10KW, and I guess I must do that by switching the power using some kind of SCR or Triac.

What would be the right approach to do this? Any help that leads me in the right direction will be very helpful.

Thanks in advance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think some more elements are necessary to decide: Is the water static or running? What precision is necessary - degrees, tenths of degrees? \$\endgroup\$ – jcoppens May 18 '15 at 20:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ What makes you think that hot water heaters do not control the temperature? An internal temperature sensor controls the heating elements to keep the water temperature at the setting on the temperature adjustment dial. Normally hot water heaters are set for about 120F to avoid the possibility of scalding. If you are talking about a hot water system for heating a house, then the water temperature is also controlled by a feedback system although the temperature is usually set for about 180F to provide more heat energy since that water only runs in a closed loop piping system. \$\endgroup\$ – Barry May 18 '15 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You need to say something about your budget. If this is a commercial project, you'd just buy a temperature controller and a SSR, and very little electronics information or knowledge would be needed. \$\endgroup\$ – user1844 May 18 '15 at 20:12
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The controller of a water heater usually has a high hysteresis, keeping the temperature within the range of a few °C.

If you need more precision, you can build something on your own. It is simple to switch the power of your heater on or off. Maybe, you have a look at this application note about zero crossing switches. These devices contain an opto-coupler to insulate your circuit from the mains and a control unit which switches the AC mains during its next zero crossing. The benefits are less EMI and less power dissipation, and of course you do not have to do much on the mains side. On the other side, this devices switches the current for entire half-waves only, so if you want a "duty-cycle" of 1%, you need to switch one half-wave of 100, which results in a period of 1 second (for 50Hz mains). But this is not such a problem in your case.

The document also contains an example circuit for temperature control, which is a good starting point

BUT a water heater contains some volume of water, and it takes some time until the heat from the heater spreads into the volume. This can lead to heavy oscillations of your temperature. The built-in thermostat is so slow that this does not happen.

For a well-regulated temperature you will need some kind of PID-controller which controls the heater based on current and previous temperature measurements. While a PID can be designed in analog electronics, a microcontroller can be used as well, and it may be preferred by you, as you have a high reputation at stackoverflow...

Implementing a PID in software is easy, the hard part is finding parameters for which it regulates your temperature as fast and precise as possible, without overshooting / oscillations.

Another point: Depending on the size of your water reservoir, the water may form levels of different temperature. Maybe, you think about a way to circulate the water inside the reservoir for a more homogenous / faster temperature distribution.

By the way: You say 5-10KW, which is quite much and usually not taken from a single phase, but from a three-phase system, and you need to switch the three phases.

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