Smart Appliances – a Dangerous Distraction for Smart Energy

Over the past six months, culminating in the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month, there’s been a growing clamour about smart appliances and how they will fit into the smart energy ecosystem.  It’s not just the technology advocates who have been selling the story; big players in the White Goods industry, like GE and LG have been out there promoting the story as well.  They have a view of a connected appliance that is constantly talking to your electricity meter, their service and maintenance site, your power provider, and for all we know, a dishwasher in Korea that’s wasting its time on the machine equivalent of Facebook.

It’s a nice high-tech story, but does it make sense?  You can see how it has evolved from the effort that is being put into smart grids.  The theory is that to reduce the strain on generating capacity, it makes sense for energy hungry appliances in the home to adjust their start time, so that they run when there’s least demand for electricity.  Hence by connecting appliances within the home to your smart meter, or your utility’s web site, they can be told when to turn on or off.  Which, on the surface, makes a certain degree of sense.

But there’s another side to the story.  The connected appliance doesn’t save energy – it just means that it uses the same amount of energy at a different time. The other approach is to make the appliance more energy efficient.  When you look at the relative efficiencies of different products, the manufacturers who seem most enthusiastic about smart appliances are those who sell some of the least efficient ones.  It makes one wonder whether their interest in connectivity is just a PR sticking plaster to cover up their poor performance.  Instead of investing in research they see an easier win in investing in media techno-babble.

The problem with doing that is that the promotion of smart appliances ups the requirement specs for the smart meters and gateways that are at the core of home energy management.  Rather than let the smart metering industry have a period of relative stability to confirm their technical specifications, complete trials and educate users, this new mania around connected appliances adds a level of unnecessary technical uncertainty.  As such it is a very dangerous distraction to the core requirements of smart energy.

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