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Smart Grid in Your Home
Follow these guidelines to manage energy use to control utility bills.
- Photo: techbeat.com
Imagine a home where your heat pump, water heater, pool pump, dishwasher, refrigerator, oven, washer, and dryer all work together to lower your energy bill; and where family members can see the real-time effects that a 30-minute shower or left-on light bulb can have on peak energy usage and the utility bill. The expansion of the nation's Smart Grid will reach all the way into the home, with “smart” appliances able to communicate with the Grid — and you — to help control and lower energy usage.
Some of these new products can help you save money now. For example, you could set up a program based on your schedule to program your water heater to turn off automatically when no one's home, cutting usage and increasing your savings. Once peak-demand pricing is adopted, that water heater could result in more savings by powering down during expensive peak pricing periods. Your utility will benefit by not having to power up expensive standby generation plants.
Other products now in development, such as dishwashers, refrigerators, and dryers, will benefit you when demand-based or peak pricing is adopted. For example, your refrigerator's 20-minute automatic defrost cycle, which consumes about 10 times more energy than during the rest of the day, kicks on now any time. A Smart Grid refrigerator will wait to defrost until utility rates are low. A Smart Grid dishwasher will automatically delay its run cycle until rates go down, although you will be able to override the delay feature if you like.
Using the Web to Control Appliances
James and Cynthia Wilson of Fayetteville, NC, participated in a pilot program with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission and technology company Consert Inc. The program allowed the Wilsons and the utility to manage three aspects of home energy use — a four-zone HVAC system, a water heater, and a swimming pool pump — by taking about 15 minutes to fill out an online form with the family’s schedule and preferences.
At a web portal, James Wilson answered a series of questions about the family's energy use and habits. He also specified what temperature the couple preferred in each zone, and for what hours, as well as how much the utility could adjust that temperature during times of peak demand. Now the Wilsons don't have to remember to adjust the thermostat when they leave for the day.
“You can't remember all the time,” Wilson says. “You don't have time to go to every thermostat. The power company also has the ability to raise our cooling temperature up to 78 degrees instead of 74. You can see the impact that could have across an entire service region.”
In the web portal, Wilson indicated when his family uses hot water so that their water heater could respond to that demand. “I go to bed at 11 p.m. and the hot water heater cuts off,” he says. “I get up at 7 a.m. My water heater starts heating around 6, so it's ready.” Once everyone leaves the house for the day, the hot water heater switches off, conserving energy throughout its unused daytime hours.
Finally, the Wilsons' pool pump was set to come on at 2 a.m. The pump will automatically shut off after a certain amount of time if, for example, Wilson turns the pump on when he takes a dip at 6 p.m. and then forgets to turn it off.
Consumers are alerted when they are in a “control event” so they can override the command if they want, Ebihara says. If you want to change a setting, you don't even have to be home. You could change your water heater setting before you sneak out of work early to make sure you had hot water for a shower at 3 p.m., for example.
Although programmable thermostats offer some of these energy saving benefits, they only work if people have them and actually use them. “In our pilot program in Raleigh [NC], only 15 percent of homes had programmable thermostats and of those, only 50 percent were actually programmed,” Ebihara says. By comparison, the online survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, at which point the homeowner can sit back and watch the energy savings commence. “We think most of America doesn't want to interact with their products every day,” Ebihara says. “We call it ‘set it and forget it.’ ”
The utility benefits by gaining additional capacity, Ebihara says. “We're in two-way, real-time communication between the consumer and the utility,” he adds. “We can present to the utility how much energy is being consumed at any point in time and be able to reduce that energy. If [the utility] sees a peak demand situation coming, it can reduce the load and reduce the load on the system.”
As for the Wilsons, they saved about $40 a month from September through April, with more savings possible during the summer. That's without time-of-use pricing, which is not part of this program. “Being on the trial has been fun,” Wilson says. “Ten years from now, this will be common.”
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