GE Gets Smart With Energy-Managing Appliances

Network-connected appliances that can be remotely turned off and on at various times of the day have largely been stuck in the realm of dark corporate labs; at least that’s how Andrew Tang, senior director of California utility PG&E, explained it to us recently. But this week, General Electric (s GE) is actually taking the smart energy appliance plunge.
This week, GE announced that in the first quarter of next year the company will “introduce” energy management-enabled appliances that can be controlled remotely by the local utility. GE says it is working on smart refrigerators, ranges, washer and dryers, dishwashers and microwave ovens, and it will use some of the first smart appliances in select homes in a pilot program in Louisville, Ky., with Louisville Gas and Electric Company.
Why would GE want to do this? GE thinks that “within 10 years, energy management-enabled appliances could easily occupy the market space held by Energy Star products today.” That prediction could come true depending on how smart appliances are priced and marketed — and on how much money they can save consumers on electricity. But as Celeste pointed out, “the idea of the Internet-enabled home appliance has been around since the heady days of the dotcom boom.”
During certain times of the day (like late afternoon) demand for electricity is higher, and utilities across the nation are starting to implement real-time pricing schedules that tie higher energy demand to higher prices. As overall energy usage continues to grow along with the population, utilities are looking at ways to help manage energy consumption.
The smart appliances could react to signals from utilities to do things like keep the automatic defrost function on a refrigerator delayed during peak hours. It’s a small, simple setting that most consumers wouldn’t even know about, but added together could across a neighborhood, the savings could make a major difference.
Energy management can help utilities avoid spending more on power generation and help avoid overtaxing the grid during peak use hours. Consumers could also benefit from lower electricity bills — and the good feeling of reducing their carbon footprints.
But a lot has to get sussed out before GE’s smart energy appliances can get to work. Utilities need to install smart meters that connect the homes, and their energy-using devices, to the utility; GE makes those, too, and has a deal to supply PG&E with 3.3 million smart meters (here’s a photo of one of GE’s in our own neighborhood). Utilities have to realize the importance of demand response, and at this point GE says it is actively looking for utilities with which to work on these projects.
Beyond the benefits to the planet, utilities and consumer’s wallets, building out a smart energy system — with smart meters and appliances — will create an ecosystem in which innovative startups can thrive. Once the infrastructure of the Internet was built out, companies creating software, web applications and networking gear emerged to take advantage of the new ecosystem. The same thing is starting to happen for the smart grid and the smart energy home.
If you found this post interesting you might also be interested in Earth2Tech’s first Briefing, The Smart Energy Home.