Today’s electricity grid–and the buildings and appliances it powers–are, for the most part, dumb. In most areas, there’s no way for utilities and consumers to communicate in real time, so it’s difficult to reduce demand during peak times. The stimulus bill passed early this year provided $11 billion to upgrade the grid, but it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, a growing number of technologies are available for consumers who want to understand and manage their electricity consumption. Here are some of the latest products.
Many utilities are considering tiered pricing systems based on demand at different times. GE’s smart refrigerator and other appliances going on sale this year can connect with energy management systems to receive real-time pricing information and do things like delay a defrost cycle until prices go down. Washing machines and dishwashers can also delay operation or switch to efficient modes. Customers can override these cost-saving functions if needed.
Product: Energy-management-enabled appliances
Cost: Not available
Home Management System
A mobile application from Tendril, a startup in Boulder, CO, will make it possible to control appliances and heating-and-cooling systems from an iPhone. The app is designed to work with Tendril’s smart outlets (which monitor and control individual appliances and lighting) and smart thermostats (which allow fine-grained control of furnaces and air conditioners). These devices communicate wirelessly to an Internet-connected household hub, through which they can be controlled via the iPhone or any other means of Web access. They also enable utilities to tweak electricity loads, with customers’ permission.
Courtesy of Tendril
Product: Vantage Mobile
Cost: Included in the $100 typical cost for initial setup of Tendril’s energy-management system
Grid Control Box
Sensors can measure the performance of transformers and power lines, allowing utilities to respond to breakdowns and spot opportunities to save energy. But such devices often require costly proprietary communication networks. SmartSynch’s SmartBox communicates with just about any grid-monitoring equipment and sends the data through existing cellular networks, paving the way for wider adoption.