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Is your washing machine “soluble” in Smart Grid?

Do you have any idea of your washing machine energy cost? No?

Don’t worry; you are not alone, because only a few people know it, really, today.

But is this the right question?

Many years ago, when the kWh cost was known and represented the biggest part of your electricity bill, the cost did not really matter, because we had to do laundry anyway. At most, an informed housewife started her machine after 10 pm to take advantage of off-peak hours.

Those early days will soon be over. Thanks to smart grid, home automation, smart metering, variable costs, voluntary or monetized shedding programs improving grid constraints, all of it combined with in-home displays, the housekeeper will soon receive a message on his mobile advising the best possible time slots for its washing day.

Alas then, the right question in the near future could be: At what time will I finally be allowed to wash my clothes?

Fortunately, it is unlikely for this scenario to happen.

First, either because the dream of a stupid and pervasive home automation invasion could fail in front of householders’ closed doors, or, second and more likely, because the electrical equipment manufacturers will eventually take this unique opportunity to make their products more communicative and thus more intelligent.

Whirlpool, but also some others, is already leading the way with its “Smart Appliance” program. It seeks to develop and market home appliances connected to a radio network and controlled by software to optimize their operation and consumption, as well to integrate them into demand-response programs in connection with utilities.

Finally,

washing your clothes could become easier and less expensive. And it’s actually your washing machine (and not yourself) that will know exactly the best time to start washing, and at what price. In this optimistic future, hopefully coming soon, we will simply put laundry in the machine, and later in the evening or the next day, we will receive a notification from the washing machine, telling that the laundry is now ready to be picked up and that the electricity cost of the cleaning was $2.5, which, by the way, was the best possible price that day/week.

We have to hope that the need of energy savings and the expected growth of smart meters, will push appliance manufacturers to quickly switch to the era of communication and thus greatly increase the usage value of their products. One condition however for this to happen, is that standards and communication technologies get advanced enough for this industry, deemed to be one of the most conservative and conformist in the world.

No doubt, smart meters deployment success all over the world, will also depend on the capacity of appliance manufacturers to design smarter appliances more integrated in smart grid communication networks.

Paul Bertrand.

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The Home Energy Controller War will not take place.

At least not right now…

Increasingly, the Green ecosystem, announces that “Domotique” in France, the Home Energy Management HEM in the United States, will soon invade our homes to bring us the happiness of both modern comfort and energy frugality required to save our planet.

Indeed, there is not a single day when we read that companies such as Silversprings Network, Trilliant, Digi …  for the United States, Ijenko, Vity, lifedomus, Actility or Schneider Electric for France, driven by the announced arrival of smart meters, are finally ready to market their famous Home Energy Controller !

Actually, I think we are still far away of that cool invasion. The main reason is that manufacturers deliberately ignore some key parameters, since they rather prefer to be the first to introduce products in the market.

First

Facts are persistent, the link between smart meters and home automation control equipment is not for the moment clearly established. Jesse Berst from Smartgridnews.com says : “HEM is only going on in 1% of North American homes (even though 25% of North American homes now have smart meters).

Then the business model remains to be invented:

  • Many of the systems proposed, not yet integrated within the online services offered by existing operators are charged for their sole usage value. The cost then becomes critical, killing the decision to purchase. Many startups have died, and others will disappear, for this reason.
  • It is not clear that many households invest more than $/€ 100 for an in-home energy display which, in the life of the current sensor battery, will probably never earn as much! How, then, imagine buying a full HEM costing more than €/$ 1,000 with accessories and adding the cost of installation and commissioning!

Last but not least, the hardware is not ready:

  • Interoperability of standards, a mandatory requirement for development of the service industry and low-cost production of components, is late and poorly accepted by most industry leaders in place who see it as a threat to their own business.
  • The high power appliances like heating, water heater, air-conditioning and lighting are, in most cases, only measurable in the electrical panel. The sensors are not only not really Plug & Play enough but also need to be installed by a qualified electrician. We are far from the business model preferred by French Telco’s sending by mail their Internet gateways.

Conclusion

The kick-start will probably come from:  1- more integration into existing multimedia services, 2- standardized technologies independent of proprietary industry, and 3- technological innovations tremendously lowering costs and improving the ease of use due to an enhanced appropriation of technology by individuals.

The Home Energy Controller War is coming but has not yet really started.

Paul Bertrand