Here come “smart” appliances—again. Only this time more are bound to make it to market—we think.
At the recent CES in Las Vegas, Samsung and LG both showed appliances that can connect to a smart grid, in which utilities will send pricing information that could change by the hour so you can automatically run energy-intensive appliances at cheaper rates. But that isn’t their greatest strength—yet.
Their greatest strength is connectivity—to other appliances and the people in the house using them. LG, for example, showed how you can store information about the food you bought in its premium fridge, which you can connect to by smartphone to see if you need milk while on the way to shop. And it can suggest recipes and send that info to a connected LG oven.
Samsung featured apps such as a Grocery Manager on the 8-inch touchscreens on its French door RF4289 and side-by-side RSG309 refrigerators, while a WF457 Front-Loading washer, due this spring, has a smart control system that lets you wirelessly connect to it to check status and start or pause wash cycles. Via a smart phone application, you can monitor cycle selections, remaining time and finishing alerts, as well as remotely start or pause the washer from anywhere in the house.
“Smart grid and smart appliances are not the same thing. You can have a connected appliance without energy management,” says Warwick Stirling, Global Director of Energy and Sustainability at Whirlpool. “Real innovation will be in the cloud. You’ll be able to manage communications between devices.”
“The real advantage is that now appliances are communicating. If we’re able to do that, then the ‘smart home’ is possible,” echoes Kent Dickson, chief technology officer of energy management smart grid company Tendril.
OK, so you may not want to input your food inventory into a refrigerator’s LCD panel, or even check on the washer’s energy usage. Some of this stuff may be pie-in-the-sky. Or as Stirling says, “You’re not going to be Facebook friends with your fridge.”
Though the real power of connected and smart appliances may be in sending you alerts if an appliance is using too much energy or if maintenance is required. That makes sense. After all, just changing an air filter could save a significant amount of energy.
Much of this won’t take off until utilities roll out their smart grid programs and offer changing, real-time rates. That’s when, by most experts’ consensus, it will take off, because we’ll all see the differences on our utility bills.
First, though, you connect the home. Says Kevin Messner, vice president of policy and government relations at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM): “Once there’s a connected home, then you can have connections to the smart grid.