Your 12-year-old daughter just made a batch of brownies, and she forgot to turn off the oven afterwards. Usually you’re home to remind her to hit the off button, but on this occasion, the oven was left on all day. Not good. Kenmore at CES this week demonstrated a technology that will preclude such problems by enabling your oven to alert to your iPhone or some other smart handheld device. From your phone, you can turn off the oven, as well as see when the preheat cycle is done. There are other applications as well, as demonstrated by a Kenmore product specialist at the booth. In a similar fashion, you can tell the washing machine that you loaded up before leaving for work to start at 4:30 so that the wet clothes can be put immediately in the dryer when you get home.
Kenmore isn’t the only manufacturer headed in this direction. GE was on hand at CES (as well as Sub-Zero, as reported in earlier CES coverage), and they dished on their plans to join the connected home space with soon-to-be-released, super-smart, Internet-connected ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, and clothes washers and dryers.
Here’s a look at some of the technologies you can expect to see incorporated into a variety of appliances in the not-so-distant future:
Automatic Upgrades: Unlike a computer that might be replaced every two years, the lifespan of kitchen and laundry appliances is much, much longer. Appliances that are designed to connect to the Internet can be upgraded with new features—like a new, more energy efficient wash cycle—in seconds.
Remote Diagnostics: Here’s another feature that can protect the livelihood of your appliances by allowing service technicians to diagnose and fix your appliances remotely, saving you time and money. Kenmore currently offers the capability, called Kenmore Connect, on its Elite front- and top-load washers and dryers. It works like this: You press the Kenmore Connect button and hold your phone up to the washer, which emits a horrendous series of squeals. Technology at the Kenmore service center analyzes the data to determine the issue. A service tech can then fix the problem remotely or know exactly which tools and parts to bring along on his service call.
Smart-Grid: Kenmore is also looking into technology that will allow its appliances to receive and react to time-of-use pricing from customers’ electric utility. “This is definitely part of our innovation pipeline,” says Philip Philip, Kenmore’s director of brand management. He expects smart grid-ready appliance to start rolling out next year.
Internet Updates: Select Kenmore appliances will be equipped with easily accessible USB ports so that new features can be downloaded into the machines remotely.
GE isn’t waiting around for utilities to institute time-of-use pricing programs before offering consumers smart grid-ready appliances. The manufacturer at CES announced plans to roll out an entire suite of products that can communicate with smart utility meters. “Consumers should be thinking about the future when they buy products,” says Kim Freeman, GE’s manager, global public relations. “Why not buy a connected appliance now so you’re ready for time-of-use pricing when it comes to your area.” It’s estimated that 40 million smart meters, which enable TOU pricing, will be installed on U.S. homes between now and 2012.1
Called Brillion, the technology will be incorporated into select products in GE’s Profile line of Energy Star-qualified appliances, including refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, and the new GeoSpring hybrid water heater, as well as ranges, microwaves and clothes dryers.
GE Profile appliances enabled with Brillion technology can automatically react to utility price signals from the smart meter and delay or reduce the wattage consumed by the appliance until lower-cost, off-peak periods. For example, the refrigerator can run its defrost cycle—a big energy draw—at midnight when utility rates are low instead of at 2 p.m. when rates are high. However, GE is quick to note that consumers can easily override the smart appliance function if they need to.
Additionally, GE demonstrated at CES its Nucleus energy manager. This device, which plugs into an electrical outlet, wirelessly gathers energy usage information from Brillion appliances and present the data on a small display unit.
Several utilities are currently working with GE on residential smart appliance pilots to test energy savings potential, and even more utilities are testing them in their labs. Among the pilot programs underway are:
• Reliant Energy — Reliant Energy in Texas is testing GE Profile appliances enabled with Brillion™ technology as part of a home-based smart energy program.
• The Vineyard Energy Project (VEP) — GE’s Brillion-enabled appliances and Nucleus™ energy manager with Brillion™ technology are being piloted on the island of Martha’s Vineyard to test the smart grid’s role in helping the island achieve greater energy independence.
• Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E) — GE has had a smart appliance pilot program in place with LG&E for more than a year. Program participants, also GE employees, have reported that, by slightly modifying their behavior and using smart appliance features, they’ve saved on their utility bills during peak pricing periods, including a report of as much as a 20 percent savings.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.