Utility executives and some energy-efficiency experts have been dreaming for years of a smart electricity grid connected to smart appliances that can be remotely controlled. In many North American cities, however, the installation of smart meters has faced strong opposition from some homeowners. The resulting fallout has amounted to a public relations nightmare for electric utilities.
According to utility engineers, the smart grid will be able to accomplish many things. Married with smart appliances, the smart grid will eventually:
GE, Samsung, and LG are now manufacturing smart appliances that can interact with a smart grid and can be controlled from a remote location.
When utility executives first hatched the idea of smart appliances, their chief motivation was a desire to remotely control appliances as a “demand response” strategy. “Demand response” is utility jargon; it refers to measures designed to lower electricity demand during peak hours. (When peak load is high, some electric utilities struggle to meet the electricity demand of their customers.)
I first became aware of utility executives’ smart grid vision in early 2008. My article on the topic, “DOE Studies Homeowners’ Tolerance Of Utility-Controlled Appliances,” appeared in the February 2008 issue of Energy Design Update. I wrote, “In a study conducted by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 50 homeowners in Washington and Oregon were offered a free electric dryer and a free electric water heater in exchange for participation in a study called the Grid Friendly Appliance Project. It was explained to the homeowners that the new appliances included devices allowing their heating elements to be remotely controlled. The control devices turned the heating elements off during certain peak load periods, ‘to help reduce pressure on the grid.’ Describing what might be termed ‘stealth load shedding,’ the researchers explained, ‘Anyone’s willingness to supply demand-side responsiveness will…