If you thought deeply about yesterday’s post you may have been left wondering, “What kind of changes need to be made in my house to establish two-way communication with my electric company? Certainly, there’s way they could know which outlet my air conditioner is plugged into.” There are a couple of resolutions to this issue.
The first is that in the future new appliances will come with smart grid technology built right into them. But if you’re like me, you probably don’t want to re-outfit your entire house at the drop of a dime. A second option, and one which is certainly more reasonable in the short term, is the less onerous installation of devices which plug into power outlets and communicate with the house itself through wireless technology. In the same way that your computer knows which internet network you’re connected to, a home control box would know which outlet each appliance is connected to. Communication of this variety can occur through a wireless standard known as ZigBee or possibly through low-cost Wi-Fi, provided it doesn’t become an energy hog itself.
This two-way communication isn’t all about granting power to the utilities, though. Your electric provider will also send information to your home about the cost of electricity at every point in time. If the price becomes too high, you can tell certain devices to modify their behavior. For example, suppose you throw a batch of wet clothes into the dryer. You can set the dryer to only introduce heat if the cost of electricity falls below a certain point. Otherwise, it can transition to tumble dry low or just fluff. For the budget conscious, this transfer of information provides a level of control non-existent through our current grid.
These benefits can be even more pronounced with heavy-duty items like electric cars. You might have occasionally heard the phrase “charge your car at night” since that’s when prices are lowest. But it’s not unreasonable to expect that owners might be willing to pay a higher premium to get the car charged sooner, provided the costs don’t climb too high. Shifting charging features on and off as a function of time can keep costs down and remove the need for owners to be constantly vigilant of the cost of electricity. GE estimates that these smart grid changes will be able to save consumers 15% to 20% on average on their electric bills even with very basic systems. These monetary savings clearly correlate with an overall increase in energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.
Tomorrow I will introduce the 6 main smart grid solutions as seen through the eyes GE’s John McDonald.