The Smartest Washer on the Block GE's Demand-Response Appliances Are Coming Soon

What if your refrigerator didn’t need to be told when to defrost or make ice? What if it knew, automatically, to only perform such energy-intensive tasks in the middle of the night, when electricity rates and loads were at their lowest? That would be one smart fridge. And just such a fridge, along with a smart or “demand response” double-range oven, microwave, dishwasher and front-load washer and dryer are on the horizon at General Electric. Smart appliances are being designed to work in conjunction with the coming smart grid, ones that can shift to reduced-energy mode when signaled by the grid or during peak periods. The potential to reduce household energy usage is significant—particular when it comes to the big home-energy hogs. In total, appliances use more than 35% of household energy.

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The first member of the “smart” appliance line is already available—an Energy Star GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater that was named one of Popular Science’s Best of What’s New 2009 gadgets and uses 62% less energy than a standard water heater, saving about $320 per year.

Charlene Begley, CEO of GE Home & Business, said in an April 2010 “Fireside Chat” with Google’s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives Dan Reicher that “Products need to be ready when the grid is. And, given the long lead time to design, equip factories and manufacture products, the federal government should incentivize manufacturers to produce these products now.”

GE was one of 47 stakeholders—a list that includes Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council along with Dow and Whirlpool—that signed an April 5, 2010, letter to President Obama asking the administration to speed up and simplify transition to a national smart grid—and to take related appliances into account. For example, they asked Obama to “Encourage the purchase and installation of technologies, devices and methods of delivery that will help ensure timely, secure and clear information on energy consumption is available to consumers.”

Ideally, a smart appliance rollout would come equipped with federal rebates and state and utility incentives for purchasing consumers and tax incentives for manufacturers, and would help drive green jobs in the process. Begley mentioned during the chat that the GeoSpring Heater was being produced in Louisville, Kentucky—and would involve hiring 400 people to build it.

Despite the sophistication—and promise—of these new heaters, fridges and other appliances, consumers don’t need to worry about being outsmarted. They still retain the right to override their fridge’s or other appliance’s energy-saving impulses.