Smart Appliances: Slow Growth, Big Influence

Smart appliances are still years away from mass adoption, but they’re going to have a bigger influence on how the smart grid and the energy-smart home get connected. That’s according to a Pike Research report set for release on Thursday that pegs the smart appliance market at $26.1 billion by 2019, with some 118 million smart devices deployed to make up about 8 percent of the world’s market.

That’s not a huge number, but it’s pretty good compared to no growth at all over the past decade or so of hype about appliances that can measure and control their own energy use and communicate with homeowners and utilities. But today, a confluence of rising electricity prices, massive smart meter deployments and coordination of technology standards for linking utilities and their customers should help make smart appliances an integral part of smart grid deployments in the coming years.

That’s because smart appliances represent one of the simplest, fastest way to curb home energy use, report author Bob Gohn writes. It’s relatively simple to make a refrigerator defrost at night, or ask a clothes dryer to cut down on natural gas heating to shave peak power demands. What’s missing is a clear business strategy to bring them to market — and education of consumers who are expected to buy them.

Right now there are dozens of utility pilots testing out smart appliances. General Electric, a huge player in appliances and smart grid products, is already rolling out a whole-home energy strategy and appliances like smart water heaters, and Whirlpool has promised to bring 1 million smart clothes dryers to market by next year. Panasonic has also set its sights on linking smart appliances to home energy management systems, as has Samsung.

Still, Pike predicts that early market growth will be slow, with only about $2.2 billion in sales by 2013 and $6.3 billion by 2015. That’s compared to a 2009 global appliance market of some $230 billion.

But as utilities, manufacturers and regulators settle on technical standards for linking appliances and the smart grid, those sales will climb quickly through the second half of the decade, the report predicts. That standards work is already underway, and Pike predicts that the clear winners in the field will be ZigBee for wireless communications and HomePlug Green PHY for powerline communications.

Once they’re widely adopted, most appliance makers will begin to embed those technologies in most of their product lines, the report predicts. Pike also notes that many utilities will want full control of smart appliances in the field — but that they will also need to educate consumers on how to interact with, or perhaps override, that utility control.

As for concerns over home energy data security and privacy, Pike predicts that work by smart grid entrants like Cisco, IBM and Oracle will help resolve those concerns. Dynamic pricing, on the other hand, remains a trickier and more complicated task for utilities, regulators and customers to hash out.

As for which appliances will go “smart” first, Pike predicts they’ll be energy-hungry devices like refrigerators, water heaters, and washers and dryers. Other appliances such as dishwashers and ovens will follow.

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Image courtesy of Bosch Home Appliances via Creative Commons license.