Power Electronics

Smart Appliances to Become a Reality in the Next 18 Months

There is much current interest in smart appliances; that is, devices that can modify their operation following signals from an electricity company. A new report from IMS Research, The World Market for Smart Appliances, forecasts their adoption will begin in the US, followed by Canada and then Western Europe. A small market for smart appliances is now emerging; greater market growth will be fuelled by investment by governments and by the utility incentives for consumers. IMS Research predicts that by the end of 2020 nearly 10 million appliances will have been installed in US homes.

GE plans to begin shipping "smart" washers and dryers by the end of 2011 or early 2012, to be followed shortly by refrigerators. These appliances will have a port, to which a communication module can later be inserted. This architecture, with external communication radios, allows GE to move forward with appliances that will be quickly, and fairly easily, modified to connect to the grid once the technology and communication standards are agreed upon.

Other manufacturers are taking a different approach to designing smart appliances. These companies are waiting for a firm agreement on communication technology standards so they can integrate the entire package within the appliance. The benefit of this approach is that it will require no action from the consumer to modify the appliance to connect to the grid.

The fact that GE will have appliances in homes, ready to be updated (much like the HD-ready TVs that have been shipped) means we are witnessing the beginning of a smart appliance market. The next step and current missing piece of the smart appliance puzzle continues to be the utility companies. Liz Cruz of IMS Research argues that dynamic pricing is needed to create demand for smart appliances. She says that "with dynamic pricing a financial incentive and therefore consumer benefit is created for purchase of smart appliances."

The continued adoption of other peak-load management devices is a positive indicator for future growth of a smart appliance market. Cruz believes "smart thermostats will lead the way for smart appliances, as a low-cost device that can shift a large percent of residential energy usage with little investment and no change in utility pricing structures." The acceptance of these similar technologies will open the door for other energy management equipment in the home.

Note 1) IMS Research uses the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturer's definition of smart appliances: "a product which has the capability to receive, interpret and act on a signal received from a home energy management system, utility, or third party energy service provider, and automatically adjust its operation depending on the signal's contents and settings from the owner."

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