GE says that it’s possible to make houses that produce as much energy as they consume, and that the technology to do this will only add 10 percent to the price of the house. The statement came as part of a symposium on the smart grid held today at GE Global Research, in Niskayuna, NY. The company announced plans for a “net zero energy home” project that will incorporate some of GE’s technology for generating and storing energy, as well as efficiently managing it, including solar panels and smart appliances, which will be available by 2015, GE says. The house would still need to be connected to the grid, selling excess solar power when it’s available and then buying power from the grid when needed.
Zero net energy homes are actually nothing new. The energy demands of single family homes are low compared to commercial buildings, and insulation, heat exchangers, careful window placement, and other efficiency measures alone can offset a large part of energy use: in some cases, the whole house can be heated with a system the size of a hair dryer. But it could be good news that GE is getting involved, in part because the company’s marketing apparatus could get more people interested in zero energy homes. But it’s also because its power management technology could have benefits beyond the home. GE has developed appliances that can respond to signals from an electric utility that demand is high. For example, a dryer might shift from using more than 4 kilowatts of energy to just 700 watts, drying clothes at a slower place and decreasing demand from the grid. A “Home Energy Manager,” a device that will be available next year, will allow consumers to set multiple appliances to automatically respond to signals from a utility. The ability to reduce peak demand could allow utilities to put off building new power plants. A GE spokesperson gave an idea of the scale of the potential impact: if 250,000 dryers responded to a signal from the utility, that would be enough to offset all the power generated by a coal power plant.