In September, the U.S. government put $4.5 billion worth of federal stimulus funds into smart-grid projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helping to transform the existing power grid into a digital network. The goal is to curb pollution while helping consumers to manage their energy use and save money at the same time.
And hopping on the smart-grid bandwagon are several large appliance makers, namely General Electric Co. (GE) and Whirlpool Corp., which have already introduced several smart versions of oven ranges, clothes washers and dryers, water heaters, and microwaves.
At the third annual GridWeek that took place in Washington in September, utilities, business, academia, and government leaders stated the a smarter grid will integrate cleaner energy resources, increase productivity and efficiency in how power is used, and empower consumers to manage energy usage.
Consumer buy in is critical because many utility smart-grid programs will be optional, and consumers need to understand that they can save up to 10 percent or more on their power bills. Utilities are quickly organizing their operations in order to deploy smart grids; some like San Francisco's PG&E Corp. are partnering with technology companies such as IBM, Cisco Systems, and Stanford University to design displays and manage data. PG&E is also working on a Smart Grid project to help customers consume and produce clean power with solar panels.
GE released its Home Energy Manager system last July, allowing its smart appliances to take commands from either utilities or users to power down to save energy and manage home appliances. The company says their smart appliances will work best when paired with systems tied into the appliances' internal control switches.
But GE is also working with startups in the home energy management software business, including Tendril Networks, to integrate the company's platform used by utilities to work with GE's appliances. GE's new products come equipped with demand-response technology, yet the company claims its appliances will only cost about $10 more than average. The GE Home Energy Manager, to be released in 2010, will retail for $250, but should make up for the cost in long-term energy savings.
Whirlpool has just announced its plans to put one million Smart Energy clothes dryers in stores by the end of 2011, a quarter of the company's total expected production. The Whirlpool dryer, like other smart appliances, will communicate to utilities through digital networks to determine the best times for use determined by overall grid electricity consumption.
The dryer's built-in sensors will detect peak electricity demand, letting the heating element turn off and on during drying while spinning continues. Whirlpool estimates this will save up to 95 percent in energy. Users can also program the dryer to function only when power prices are the lowest.
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