Just as you flip a light switch when you leave a room, new home appliances will soon be smart enough to conserve energy by deciding when to turn on or off. Smart appliance technology is relatively new, but as people across the globe worry about energy supplies and cost, experts expect the industry will grow fast.
Over the next few years, the most popular new smart appliances will be clothes washers, refrigerators, and clothes dryers, followed by dishwashers and freezers, according to research by Zpryme, a company that tracks consumer patterns and smart technology. Smart appliances will be able to communicate with home energy management systems that also will monitor thermostats, solar panels, electric vehicles and overall electricity demand in a home. These systems will give homeowners feedback on how to reduce energy usage and costs, and they will tie into the larger digitization of power grids currently underway by utility companies.
Among other benefits, smart technology allows consumers to set preferences on when they consume electricity and at what price. Utilities will use smart grid technology to introduce real-time pricing models that encourage businesses and homeowners to shift noncritical energy use to off-peak hours during the night or early morning. Doing so reduces the need to build additional power plants, and homeowners with smart appliances are expected to be able to program price thresholds or time periods to reduce their electric bills.
Smart meter and smart grid technologies already are assisting utilities in pinpointing and repairing storm outages more quickly, and soon they will assist grid operators in avoiding brownouts or blackouts as well. For instance, if grid operators begin to see a spike in peak energy usage, they can send a remote signal to homes that have opted in, temporarily turning off hundreds or thousands of noncritical appliances for a short amount of time. This would immediately reduce electricity demand and maintain grid stability for critical uses like hospitals and traffic signals.
With any emerging technology, though, the key is to create standards that protect consumers without hampering innovation. In 2011, UL began working with manufacturers, retailers and trade associations to better understand emerging product capabilities, potential user behaviors and the safety implications of meters, appliances and other smart home technologies.
Specifically, we are testing that these devices have safety mechanisms to prevent electric shock and other user risks that are concerns with traditional electronics as well. But smart appliances may also require protections so that machines pick up remote signals correctly, signals don’t interfere with other functions, or that certain functions only can be activated in person.
With such a new area of technology that is sure to grow quickly, UL is tracking emerging trends and consumer demand to hone standards as smart technology become more and more common in U.S. households.