Smart Fridges to Invade the UK

If our appliances get too smart, can they still be unplugged? People in the UK are about to find out, as smart grid technology will make its way into their kitchens under a new government program that will give away 3,000 smart fridges in the country (hat tip to the Guardian). UK energy utility npower, part of Germany’s RWE, is working on the project with UK smart-energy startup RLtec, which will provide “dynamic demand” technology. The fridges are expected to be rolled out next year.

The new appliances are designed to be easy to use, involving little or no user input, and are expected to save people a significant amount of cash on their energy bills. One recent study from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford found that energy management systems can help cut residential electricity use by up to 15 percent.

According to a report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, widespread use of the smart fridges, which can automatically modify their power use in response to changes in supply and demand on the grid, could save about two million tons of carbon dioxide per year and £222 million ($331.5 million) in energy costs.

In the U.S., General Electric (s GE) is working on its own pilot project for smart appliances. The company announced in October that it’s working on smart refrigerators, ranges, washer and dryers, dishwashers and microwave ovens. GE plans to test some of its first smart appliances in Kentucky in the first quarter of next year in a partnership with Louisville Gas and Electric.

The next-gen appliances can make decisions on their own on when to curb power consumption, based on information relayed by the power grid operator about the availability and price of power. The RLtec-equipped units can check their current status and adjust their power use, all without the utility or the consumer needing to fiddle with the dials, and without affecting performance — a key component of smart-energy technology.

Three hundred fridges fitted with RLtec’s technology will be distributed to homes in the UK in first phase of the project, with a total of 3,000 fridges and freezers, of different types and models, to be deployed following the initial roll-out.

Want to learn more about smart-grid technologies for the home? Download Earth2Tech’s first GigaOM Briefing, The Smart Energy Home.