GE First with ZigBee Smart Energy Appliances
GE Appliances & Lighting will introduce major appliances with built-in ZigBee technology for communication with smart meters and the smart grid, but they won't connect to the smart home ... yet.
May 18, 2010 by Julie Jacobson

GE Appliances & Lighting claims to be the first company to achieve ZigBee Smart Energy certification for its smart or smart grid-enabled appliances.

The Smart Energy profile, finalized in April of this year, ensures interoperability between compatible devices and the smart grid – normally via a ZigBee-enabled electrical meter.

There are several such meters now on the market. There are also a variety of compliant thermostats, in-home displays and gateway products – all of which an communicate two-way with ZigBee Smart Energy meters and the utilities that employ them. (View list of some of the products.)

While these peripheral devices are steadily coming to market, manufacturers of energy-sucking products have been slow to move. So GE’s implementation of ZigBee and the Smart Energy profile is somewhat of a milestone in the effort to monitor and manage a home’s energy usage.

GE’s suite of smart appliances includes wash machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, ranges, microwaves, and the GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater. The GeoSpring is the first commercially available smart appliance on the market now. Other smart grid-enabled appliances in the suite will be available starting later in 2010. The appliances will be able to communicate wirelessly with the utilities’ AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) systems, enabling the utility to communicate pricing and grid status to the smart appliances, and enabling utilities to receive confirmation and usage data in return.

GE explains:

“The ZigBee Smart Energy Profile is emerging to be an important protocol for smart grid communication. This is a huge step in our strategy of supporting multiple protocols, as the smart grid gets rolled out, helping both consumers and utilities manage energy consumption more effectively, improving grid reliability and reducing consumer costs,” said Kevin Nolan, Vice President Technology for GE Appliances & Lighting. “With this technology, both consumers and the utilities will have more information and be able to make better decisions than ever about energy usage.” …

For example, a utility can signal appliances during periods of critical peak energy usage or highest prices. The signal will shift the appliances’ operating software into demand-response mode, temporarily reducing power consumption, decreasing the risk of power disruption, and saving the consumer money. Utilities can also signal the appliances when pricing is at its lowest, allowing consumers to take advantage of these low-price periods to perform energy-intensive tasks at the lowest rates and at times of least electricity demand.

In actuality, few utilities today are actually transmitting time-of-use data to their customers and implementing demand side management – despite ongoing trials for the past two decades. Plus, GE’s earlier efforts to link smart appliances to the smart grid—most notably the ambitions Ecomagination program—have stalled.

Furthermore, in order to truly manage your energy consumption, you’ll need to tie your smart devices into a home-control system. Look to companies like Control4 and HAI to bridge ZigBee Smart Energy products to a ZigBee Home Automation ecosystem.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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