We’ll be hearing a lot about smart appliances in the next year. Companies like GE, LG, Whirlpool and others are showing off intelligent washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and more, which can receive signals from two-way communicating smart meters to help you save energy and money. The signals will be sent wirelessly, likely via the wireless ZigBee radio frequency technology.
Most of these smart appliances will only be available this year to homeowners involved in electric utilities’ smart grid trial or pilot programs. The bulk of the smart appliances being shown and touted at trade shows today won’t be available to the general public until 2012.
So … er … how does this work? How will you actually save money with these newfangled appliances? The concept is called “load shifting.” Think of time shifting TV programs on your DVR, but with the energy your appliances use. Load shifting will work primarily via Time of Use pricing. Many electric utilities rolling out smart grid programs will implement Time of Use pricing that pretty much does what it says: Your electric rates will vary by the time of day, so peak usage periods such as 3 pm to 8 pm will be priced higher—in some cases much higher—than late at night, for example. So you may want to run that load of dishes in the dishwasher at midnight instead of 7 pm. You can set a smart grid-connected appliance to do just that—and do it automatically. Or, you might want a home control system governing your appliances.
This will work especially well for “smart charging” electric vehicles (EVs). Utilities are quite concerned that we’re all going to go out and buy electric cars in the next few years, drive them home and plug them in for the night to charge—all at about the same time. That would be a huge drain on the power grid, so utilities have a vested interest in getting us to charge EVs at different times. EV chargers will be able to communicate with smart meters and home control systems to help you charge a car’s batteries at the most economical times.
Many utilities will also implement demand response programs. In these, homeowners can voluntarily opt in to allow the utility to turn down or turn off power-hungry appliances like air conditioning systems during peak load periods to help avoid local brownouts or the utility having to purchase more expensive power (the cost of which would ultimately be passed on to you).
You will maintain override privileges for demand response events and Time of Use pricing. Utilities have found through their trials that their customers want control and ease of use. So don’t believe the Big Brother conspiracies about the electric utilities telling you what you can run in your home. These will be voluntary programs with user override capabilities.
To give you an idea of how you can save energy and money with smart appliances, GE has a useful chart available on its web site in the section on its Brillion energy management technology.
Here’s a quick overview:
Dishwasher—You can run a dishwasher during low-cost hours with a delayed start. A smart meter sends a signal to the dishwasher, and you can choose to run it then or later at a less expensive time. To save more energy, GE advises you avoid dry cycles.
Double oven/range—A self-cleaning feature is disabled during high-cost times. The cooktop surface automatically reduces power use by 20 percent during high-cost hours. And the range automatically defaults to the smaller, less energy-consuming upper oven during peak use times.
Front-load washer and dryer—Both the washer and dryer automatically delay start until energy rates go down, so you can set them to run during low-cost hours. During high-cost periods, the washer automatically defaults to the Low Energy wash cycle.
Refrigerator—Defrosting cycles are automatically delayed until low-cost times of day. Quick Chill and Quick Defrost features are disabled during high-cost hours, but only until the peak-use period is over.
Geospring Hybrid Water Heater—Automatically sets to use the lowest amount of energy during high-cost hours. In eHeat mode, the water heater operates using just 550 watts (vs. 4,500 watts in standard electric mode).
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates