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Power Earth

Consumers May Find Smart Appliances a Dumb Idea 347

theodp writes "As GE readies appliances that communicate with smart meters in the hope of taking advantage of cheaper electricity rates, CNet asks a big question: Are consumers ready for the smart grid? Right now, most utilities only offer a flat rate, not time-of-use pricing, so the example of a drier that reacts to a 'price signal' about peak rates by keeping one's clothes wet until a more affordable time is pretty much a fantasy. And longer-term, a big question is whether consumers will want to deal with the hassle of optimizing household appliance energy usage themselves, or be willing to relinquish monitoring and control to utility companies — with a concomitant loss of privacy. After all, losing one's copy of 1984 is one thing — losing one's lights and refrigerator is another thing altogether."
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Consumers May Find Smart Appliances a Dumb Idea

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  • by DigitAl56K ( 805623 ) * on Saturday July 18, 2009 @10:59PM (#28745135)

    As a single guy (rare for Slashdot, I know..) I don't use much energy at home during the day because surprise surprise I'm out at work. On the other hand, I'm sure there are many people who have families where one adult is home part of the day and probably takes care of cleaning, laundry, etc. during that time, probably watches TV and/or uses the computer, has kids to entertain, needs air conditioning in the summer, heating in the winter, etc. It doesn't seem like smart electronics are going to substantially change these behaviors. Great, the dryer wants to wait until off-peak to dry my clothes, but I have 3 loads of laundry to get done..

    What may change things is something that we've discussed here several times: Electric cars that have the ability to return electricity to the grid during times of high demand. Hopefully this or other means of localized power storage will reduce the need for "peak" pricing in future. Hopefully devices will also consume less power in future. For example, if you're spending time online with your notebook you aren't drawing anywhere near the 100-200w you would if you were using a desktop system (my Eee 1000HE netbook draws 9-12 watts).

    I would rather see us find ways to better match power availability to demand instead of a short-lived period of doing the inverse. Electric cars are a great way to do so because it's a natural leverage of developments in our lives that are already taking place with widespread support.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by King_TJ ( 85913 )

      I agree with you... The biggest energy users in a typical home are items that pretty much need to stay on consistently day and night, anyway. My water heater is like that. No point having it if I only get hot water on demand *some* of the times I want it. The refrigerator will spoil all the food if it shuts down to save energy during "peak hours" of the day. And I already have a programmable thermostat for the A/C and furnace, but I've never seen any real cost savings by setting it up to run less often

      • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:32PM (#28745257)

        Tankless water heaters only heat the water when you need it.

        Your refrigerator could apply a colder temperature before peak usage period, to reduce the amount of cooling that should be needed during the peak time, or apply other measures "in anticipation" of approaching peak usage period..

        • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:42PM (#28745299) Journal
          Australia has had off-peak rates at night for decades, most people use it for their hot-water service.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            >>>Australia has had off-peak rates at night for decades

            My U.S. power company had that for my house for 20 years, and now suddenly they are phasing it out. Dicks. My heater would run at night, storing the heat in a giant tank of water when rates were cheap, and then remain off during the day. It helped us save money. Now the idiot Power company has announced we'll be charged the same rate all day long.

            Idiots. It's like they are DEvolving their service instead of evolving it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by corsec67 ( 627446 )

          Here in Japan, some places have remote water heater controllers, to shut off the water heater when it isn't used.

          I discovered that the hard way, when I tried to take a shower without telling the people who's house I was staying in.

          (The control panel looked like this [])

          Japanese building used to be built without double-pane windows, insufficient insulation and a few other issues that make the water heater a minor concern relative to the ecological impact of making the building comfortable.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Don't worry, the same inconvenience is coming to the U.S. The Senate already passing a bill that will fine people ~$1500 for not having health insurance (I don't want it damnit), so it's only a matter of time 'til they start punishing people who use too much energy. Either through a similar fine like the health fine, or just flip a switch and off goes the water heater, or the a/c, or the heat pump.

            I've read the Constitution a couple times, and I can't locate any clause that gives Congress authority to fine

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by JWSmythe ( 446288 )

          For water heaters, there are better ones that monitor their own usage and attempt to predict utilization. I had one like this, which worked very well. I'm not 100% sure on the timing, but it went something like this. It was able to recognize there is hot water usage for a 4 hour window around 7am and 5pm. If it saw water wasn't being consumed, it would then reconfigure itself. For example, if you went on vacation and forgot to tell it, it would use less power. There was also an manual s

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

            Just imagine a gas stove turning on with it's pilot light off, and then the pilot igniting.

            You could just imagine it working like my 20-year-old oven instead. It has an electric igniter and it doesn't turn the gas on until the resistance reaches a certain point, the resistance increases with heat. An open means it's broken, and so does a short, so it's all very simple. The user only need provide a thermostat input (e.g. a signal which goes on until the target temperature has been reached) and the oven does the rest.

            If your burners had a similar thermocouple safety, you could remote light those to

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 )
          The problem is that cooling your food down too far can damage it. eg. freezing milk or cheese.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cnaumann ( 466328 )

          Tankless water heaters are almost useless when it comes to saving energy. The simple truth of the matter is that the standby losses of a modern foam insulated tank are actually quite small. Tankless water heaters also do the opposite of what needs to be done to reduce peak loading.

          Water heaters are good candidates for smart appliances. Water heaters tend to run for an hour or so after hot water has been used, say for a shower or to clean a load of laundry. They come on after a morning shower and use energy

      • "And I already have a programmable thermostat for the A/C and furnace, but I've never seen any real cost savings by setting it up to run less often during the day when nobody's home. "

        I live in Dallas and have a setback thermostat. It goes to 99dF from 8am to 4pm. When I use it in July and August, I use about 1,000 kw a month. When I don't use the thermostat I use about 1,400 kw a month. That is over 25% savings.

        "(Once the walls and floors and ceilings warm up (or cool down in the winter) to a certain
      • A hot water heater is a good example, since they don't have to be on all the time. You don't need to have it heating water during the day since a well insulated one will keep the water hot during that time. Having it heat water at night is more efficient, and will last all day if you don't have a huge household.

        The reason you don't see cost savings is that currently most electric meters can not tell when you used electricity. They're read once a month and don't know if you used all that power in one day o
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by davester666 ( 731373 )

      > Electric cars that have the ability to return electricity to the grid during times of high demand

      This gets really complicated to do in practice.

      How many people plan for when exactly they will drive?
      The two main times your car connects to the grid is when demand will be highest, namely when you get to work (as most office workers get to the office at the same time, and will need to charge their cars then), and when you get home from work (same as everybody else coming from the office, and this early-mid

      • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:57PM (#28745365) Homepage

        "Electric-only vehicles will be a huge drain on the power grid. "

        This meme always pops up, and is untrue as the existing infrastructure is perfectly capable of handling millions of electric vehicles.

        "Since utilities have built enough power plants to provide electricity when people are operating their air conditioners at full blast, they have excess generating capacity during off-peak hours. As a result, according to an upcoming report from the Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy lab, there is enough excess generating capacity during the night and morning to allow more than 80 percent of today's vehicles to make the average daily commute solely using this electricity. If plug-in-hybrid or all-electric-car owners charge their vehicles at these times, the power needed for about 180 million cars could be provided simply by running these plants at full capacity." [] []

        Note when you read this that it INCLUDES California.

        • there is enough excess generating capacity during the night and morning to allow more than 80 percent of today's vehicles to make the average daily commute solely using this electricity...

          Note when you read this that it INCLUDES California.

          Note that when you read this it assumes that people will only charge their vehicles at these off peak hours. Good luck convincing a significant percentage of car owners to only charge when it's convenient (for the grid and not necessarily for them). We can't even convince a significant amount of car owners that fuel efficiency is important. I'm not against electric vehicles but it's not as simple as it seems. The only feasible way I see of significant numbers of electric vehicles is some form of grid in

          • by shmlco ( 594907 )

            Ummm... reread for comprehension and you'll note that peak/off-peak pricing plays a major part, as (and as you mention) does tying the chargers into the grid in such a way that all of them aren't vying for power all at the same time.

            Besides, a car tends to be in the garage with its charger only at night, as most people seem to take 'em out and drive 'em around in the daytime. Amazing how well that works.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DigitAl56K ( 805623 )

        How many people plan for when exactly they will drive?

        Look at it another way: I'm at home during the day and I have an electric car. I have two choices: use my appliances at peak rate or tell my car to serve up some of the power it stored last night off-peak. Which do I do? It *always* makes economical sense to take that power back from my car before dipping into the grid. Doing so means there is less on-peak demand for everyone else, so prices should come down. If it saves lots of money people will find a nice way to do it, and car manufacturers will sell hig

    • nano nano (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mindbrane ( 1548037 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:38PM (#28745281) Journal
      I don't welcome greater government oversight in my private life but I do welcome a more refined two way grid because it may facilitate a "nano" economics and the necessary infrastructure. I just made up the term nano economics and may I rot in hell if it catches on as yet another catch phrase but the idea of individuals and small groups having the means necessary to incorporate into larger entities and supply small quantities of resources for exchange over a grid or in a larger project has many attractive features. Recently /. ran a story on music indies being under fire from large corporations trying to corner markets. A sort of nano economics could have positive benefits from small business startups to undermining unconscionable copyright laws. One of the things missing is a government interface such as might develop from managing power grids at the micro level and burgeoning into a nests set of systems that would allow for a broader array of nano economic possibilities. Some developing countries have experimented with micro banking wherein community members pool small sums of monies to help startups get going. I think a nano economic revolution is available via the current technology but will require the necessary government infrastructure and a shift in thinking and practise on the part of the public. Perhaps mature, industrial countries with the requisite resources and an educated working class could bootstrap such a micro revolution.
    • Guess what: the largest users of electricity are industrial. For example, aluminum is basically refined with electricity. Lots of it. Given a laborforce mostly working 9-5 to apply that electricty, there's still a peak use time.

    • by mcrbids ( 148650 )

      As a single guy (rare for Slashdot, I know..) I don't use much energy at home during the day because surprise surprise I'm out at work.

      Sure. No energy. Like the nice A/C at work that keeps the temp at a nice 77 degrees day and night, the lights, the telephones, the factory machines, lathes... you might be interested to know that it's at work that the most progress has been made in efficiency, simply because you use so much energy at work...

      What may change things is something that we've discussed here severa

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by awetech ( 1600949 )
      The Tesla elctric cars are an awesome vehicle, with the new model S having a range of 300 miles and a top speed of 120mph, 0-60 in under 6 seconds. Not bad for a totally electric car
    • I know hearing from friends that have visited London that they do take special care not to use anything taxing during the day. The house my friends stayed at while there actually scolded them for drying clothes during prime time. I don't know if that's the norm for the UK or not, but they may be targeting a more global appeal with this type of technology.

      Any comments from our neighbors across the pond?
    • by carlzum ( 832868 )
      That's a much better critique than the CNET article (and unlike the summary, you spelled dryer correctly). Privacy and lazy consumers aren't the problem. Peak hours are peak hours for a reason, it's when businesses and consumers need energy. I agree with you, local storage would revolutionize the way we use energy. If homes and buildings had energy "reservoirs" the delivery of power could be distributed better and reduce stress on the grid during peak times. It would also make supplemental sources of energy
    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @01:35AM (#28745831) Homepage Journal
      I see your point, but I am not sure if you see the point of the article. One issue, as I understand it, preventing the use of renewable energy is their lack of ability to supply energy at peak times. Right now, apparently, we have infracture that is mostly not used, except at certain peak times. This is a social problem, not an engineering problem. Takes roads for example. We can build roads so that people can get to work at peak times, but that does not provide a long term solution. The long term solution is social.

      Localized energy storage is not going to provide the 100% guaranteed power we require in the US. There is simply no tolerance for unreliability. Localized power returned to the grid is useful if the grid can store the power, so that the power is not wasted, otherwise it is simply an incentive for people to generate power, just like the peak power rates.

      Such a policy of peak pricing may be temporary, but it may last long enough to change behavior. There are many tasks that can be done overnight if the automation is put in place. This will require investment, and one way to spur the investment is to make energy expensive.

      Also, such pricing does have an effect on conservative users. When I was younger, I went to great length to keep my power usage below a threshold, because below that threshold I was changed very little. As soon I crossed the threshold I was charged a lot more. It encouraged me to watch my usage.

      The reason people dislike this kind of plan is because they don't want to give anything up. They want to have low fuel consumption, but they want it in a military transport. They want low electric bills buy they want a big screen TV. They want to save money, but can't because they spend it on bottled water and energy drinks. The reality is that we need better management of power. It has to visible, not hidden so that people think there are no negative consequences. If that means lowering the energy cost for those that even out their power usage and increasing costs for those who don't, well that is one tool we have in the free market.

    • Smart charging of electric cars is indeed one of the uses of this technology. Customers with displays in their homes have said they've found them useful, even elderly people not quite so up on techie stuff. Many times it's just a matter of knowing to wait an extra hour before turning something on. The newer meters will also let the power companies know give different rates at different times, no more just asking people to wait until off peak, they can give cheaper electricity then.
  • I was very close to someone who, in all intents and purposes, had a "smart" house. Practically every key component of the house, including lighting, air conditioning, and heating, was controlled by a computer running some Microsoft product. (I forgot the name of it, but it runs great!) Considering that most of the family was blind, this network made their lives a lot easier.

    However, I can see the benefits of "smart" houses being useful for everyone. Massive living room speakerphone connected to Skype and POTS could come in handy. Morever, appliances now a days are already "smart" to some capacity when compared with their predecessors. We see this on timers in air conditioners and refridgerators as well as cooking thermometers on ovens and stove-tops, for instance.

    Adjustment might take a while, but if it serves a good use, people will appreciate it. Remember, ultimate convenience is the goal!
  • Dumb (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:10PM (#28745183)

    Smart appliances are a truly dumb idea. What things in your home consume the most power?

    Tier 1

    Tier 2
    Entertainment system.
    Hair dryer etc.

    Can you wait for off-peak power for any of those? Of those things, what can really be delayed?

    The fridge? Not if you dont want you food to spoil.
    Stove/Oven. Not if you want to have dinner.
    Heating/Cooling. Not if you want to be in your house while you are awake.
    Dishwasher. Yes. That one.
    Dryer. Maybe, if you are okay with wet clothes sitting around (mold). Not if you have more than one load.
    Lighting Not if you want to be in your house while you are awake.
    Entertainment system. Not if you want to actually use it.
    Hair dryer? No, that's not how it works.

    So there was what? Just the dishwasher?

    This whole idea sounds like some dumb-ass' PhD topic. Fascinating in theory, doesn't work in reality.

    • Re:Dumb (Score:4, Informative)

      by cpotoso ( 606303 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:35PM (#28745265) Journal

      The fridge? Not if you dont want you food to spoil.

      The fridge consumes a lot of power in a home, but in a rather "distributed" way, does not really peak too much. Moreover, it would be possible to have the fridge relax a bit the thermostat requirement for a couple of hours if peak conditions are detected. It will not spoil your food to have it frozen at -17C vs. -18C for a few hours!

      Stove/Oven. Not if you want to have dinner.

      100% in agreement, that cannot be delayed!

      Heating/Cooling. Not if you want to be in your house while you are awake.

      Again, it could be set that a \pm 1 C extra is allowed during peak demand. In my community they give you 5% discount on electricity if you agree to have your AC controlled by the city (they may delay your ac 20' at peak times). I did not agree to that for such meager savings, I must say...

      Dishwasher. Yes. That one.

      Can wait. No problem there.

      Dryer. Maybe, if you are okay with wet clothes sitting around (mold).

      MOLD? For waiting a couple of hours? You've read too many crazy articles out there "MOLD IS COMING TO KILL US ALL!". :-)

      Lighting Not if you want to be in your house while you are awake.

      Not that much consumption if using CFL's. No need to regulate.

      Entertainment system. Not if you want to actually use it.

      What is your entertainment system, you know they do not consume THAT much...

      Hair dryer? No, that's not how it works.

      Who needs that? :-)

      • ...they may delay your ac 20' at peak times

        How long will your AC 'be allowed' to run after that 20 minute delay? Right now in Austin the temps are 102+ during peak times. A 20 minute delay at peak hours means a rise of a couple of degrees F, after which the AC runs longer trying to return the target temp. If not allowed to run long enough the cumulative rise would get bad quick.

        Either you are going to be uncomfortable with a steadily rising temperature or you are not going to save much. People with the mea

        • Re:Dumb (Score:4, Interesting)

          by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @02:34AM (#28746027) Homepage

          AC delays are typically only instituted as a last-resort alternative to rolling blackouts. My former employer in New York City participated in such a program when I was working there in 2006.

          If you don't remember, 2006 was a particularly hot summer, and New York had a series of nasty blackouts, particularly in Queens. At one point, 10 of the 22 feeder cables to Queens literally burned up due to the excessive heat and demand, leaving the residents without power for weeks. Although there indeed should have been safeguards in place to prevent this, I think that it's preferable to lose AC for a few hours than it is to suffer through a prolonged blackout.

          NYC's rushing head over heel to fix its electricity infrastructure, although it's an uphill battle, considering many years of neglect, increasing demand, and an overall pressure to cut costs.

    • Re:Dumb (Score:5, Insightful)

      by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:38PM (#28745285)
      My dishwasher has a delay button, so when it's full we just hit that button and it doesn't start until after 9pm.

      We do most of the laundry on the weekends when we can throw a load in, do things around the house, and then come back to it later. Between my wife and I, we do 4-5 average loads a weekend.

      We tend to take showers early morning or late evening, so that puts the hot water usage off a little bit. Sharing the shower doesn't help since we tend to run it longer when we do.

      My pool pumps are on timers and only run from midnight to 4am. I've found the 6 and 12 hour for winter/summer recommendations for most pools are wrong for me, I just kept cutting mine back further and further until I found out I only need 4 hours a night, no matter whether it was summer or winter. Oh .. I live in Phoenix.

      Maybe we don't need smart appliances .. maybe we need smart users of dumb appliances.

      Oh .. but then the government couldn't control it. I see where this administration is going with it....
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Most people I know naturally run the dishwasher in off-peak times anyway.

    • I have a large family, and we run our dishwasher 4-5 times a day, so scratch that one too. :)
      • If this doesn't work out for your lifestyle, why complain that it's useless for everyone? You can stick with the dumb applicances if you want.
      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Maybe you should get more than that one plate and fork.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Insightful my ass. My utility has a time of use plan and I save quite a bit with it. The two biggest power consumers are ac/heating and the hot water heater. The water heater only runs during off peak times. I get plenty of hot water in the morning because it shuts off just before I wake up. If I do need it during peak hours I can press a button and have hot water within a few minutes. As for the ac, peak hours are mostly when I'm not there. So the temp is set to something uncomfortable. By the time I nee

    • Can you wait for off-peak power for any of those?

      You can if you can store the power - the heat or the cold - until it is needed.

      It's become economical for large buildings to freeze a tank of "water" at night and use it to cut the cost of air conditioning during the day.

      The idea isn't new or unfamiliar - sailboats and inboards were using similiar systens for refrigeration and freezing decades back. You'd be drawing significant power off the main engine - but only for an hour or two.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      This whole idea sounds like some dumb-ass' PhD topic. Fascinating in theory, doesn't work in reality.

      Yeah? And who do we have running the country? Is it a bunch of grizzled industry veterans who know how to take a "smart" idea and apply practical sense to it and make it work (or, more often, reject it)? No. We have a bunch of PhD academics who have never had an accountable job outside of government and university. And they just know they're right about everything.

      I hope you like blackouts.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      The fridge could stand to shut down for the peak hour of the day. It'll actually stay cold for quite a while longer than that if not opened.

      Perhaps the dryer for one load a day. Any other loads will be as they are currently. Of course that doesn't require a smart dryer, just a delayed start timer (just like my plain old dishwasher already has).

      Heating and air for some households where ther are hours when everyone is regularly at school and work at the same time. Otherwise no.

      I'd be fine with the water heate

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just look at the troll stories he has posted before: []

  • etc, I don't want it done via taking away rights and freedoms and forcing people to not use electronic devices until off-peak hours. I also don't want it done in a way, like cap and trade, that makes energy use so expensive that it costs jobs and forces poor people to go without electricity.

    This "Smart Grid" has a way of spying on a home owners (or renters) privacy as well as shutting off devices so that they cannot use them until off-peak hours. Can you imagine your washing and drier being shut off, and you need to get three loads of clothes done, and you are forced to wear dirty clothes until the washer and drier can be turned back on. Not only that but sweating it out during the summer when the A/C is turned off by the grid and possibly dying of heat stroke and freezing to death in the winter when the heater is forced off until it turns back on during non-peak hours. I got a feeling there will be a lot of death by the smart grid lawsuits if this thing passes.

    • I got a feeling there will be a lot of death by the smart grid lawsuits if this thing passes.

      My guess is no. They've almost certainly had lawyers, lobbyists, and campaign contributors focusing on the liability issue for a while.

      We, the public, generally cannot afford such luxuries.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by horatio ( 127595 )

      This "Smart Grid" has a way of spying on a home owners (or renters) privacy as well as shutting off devices so that they cannot use them until off-peak hours.

      Exactly. I don't want the power company, or the government, controlling when and how I use appliances in my house. MY house, MY appliances. STAY OUT. Smart-meter my ass.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Vectronic ( 1221470 )

        Especially since you know there is going to be a "crackdown", the "War On Electricity", originally, there might have been 2 hours a day when you were restricted, then 3, then 4... then that, plus all of Sunday from 9am to 5pm, then section X of City Y. Forcing people into some form of extra tax on electricity because you can't avoid the "limited" hours. Giving more money to the electric companies, so they can what, reduce the electricity output even more?

        Then you get some weird prohibition, people selling e

      • Good luck with that. In Ontario, they've already mandated smart meters by law. Here come higher hydro rates too, we're about to get screwed and they said that it will net us lower rates. They did the same in Quebec, rates jumped by 15-35%. Big shock, there is such a glut in raw hydro here, that they're actually shutting down one of our nuclear reactors for several weeks because of excess power.

        Annoying as all piss. There was no input on this, bloody statists.

      • These are all optional devices completely under the control of the owner. They are there for your convenience to save you money. If you don't want the power company turning off your devices, then don't let them.

        The current way this is done is by having rolling blackouts. Not the smartest way to go.
      • Okay. You have a few options:

        1) Generate your own power. If you really don't want the government "all up in your business," this is really the only way to go. Otherwise, you're going to learn to accept the rules of playing nicely in a shared society with limited resources.

        2) Don't use "smart appliances" with your "smart meters." They'll operate whenever you want, and you'll pay the rate according to the time of day that you choose to use them. It's an extremely capitalist system.

        3) Use smart appliances

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dkf ( 304284 )

        I don't want the power company, or the government, controlling when and how I use appliances in my house. MY house, MY appliances. STAY OUT. Smart-meter my ass.

        Oh, you're a Libertarian with far too much money? The only way in which government is getting involved is to get variable rate electrical power charging exposed to consumers. Big industrial users have had this sort of thing for many decades (in fact, I don't think they've ever had flat-rate charging). Given that there will be differential rates available, do you want to take advantage of them to run some of your appliances at cheaper times of the day, or do you feel that you love your power company so much

    • I think that the best way to do this would be some kind of battery bank / fuel cell / energy storage. The customer charges it at night, and it reduces the load during the day.
      While this would be expensive, it would complement a house with solar power well, since they typically already have a battery bank. The other advantage is that because you simply draw the power at night into a reservoir, there is no way to monitor usage.

  • My house is on a peak/off-peak schedule, with the peak rate being based on highest demand during the peak hours, which are at specific hours of the day, with a set summer and a set winter (rest of the year) schedule. We have a demand control computer that limits the peak demand during on-peak hours. It monitors the rate of consumption, and it has direct control of the water heater, and X-10 control of the heating and air-conditioning to limit the peak amount used, but only during on-peak periods. We do our

    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      We have a peak load controller that my power company can use to shut down our air conditioner for 20 minutes out of every hour during times of peak energy usage. Their program is called Cycled Air, and for this inconvenience, I get all my air-conditioning electricity run through a separate meter, and I pay a discounted rate for all of it (not just when it's cycled.)

      Smart Appliances might try to give me the same benefit as Cycled Air, but the problem with a Smart Appliance is that I could cheat. The rea

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bacon Bits ( 926911 )

      This reminds me of how the clock my parent's microwave worked. When programming the clock, the system asks for the time of day, whether it's AM or PM, and then asks for the month, date, and year. Why does the microwave care what the date is? And why does it need the year? This microwave has no progammability features for turning on in the future. It is not daylight-saving aware. You can't even ask the display to show the current date. There are no day-of-week functions either. Quite honestly, asking

  • It is a dumb idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:35PM (#28745269) Homepage

    I kind of like the idea of peak rates. But the idea of "smart" appliances talking to the power company over the Internet is just dumb.

    If you publish a schedule of prices, and I can save money by modifying my behavior, I'll do it. With the appliances I have.

    Example: Puget Sound Energy experimented with giving us peak rates, so we began doing laundry later in the evening. We used the delay timer on our dishwasher to make it start itself at about 4am. At no point did we wish we had Internet 3.0 appliances.

    By the way, PSE found that most people disliked the peak rates program. The discounts for modifying your behavior were not generous enough to make it worth the hassle for most people. I live in the suburbs near Seattle, so we have relatively cheap (mostly hydro) power anyway.

    So, for success, make up a simple table of rates vs. times; make sure the discounts for off-peak power are sufficient to adequately reward the people who modify their behavior; done. You can do this now, and no one needs new appliances.

    P.S. I did actually RTFA, and there is a bit more to their ideas than just Internet 3.0 appliances. One actually good idea is to have an energy manager in your home, and be able to tell your home that you are going on vacation. Your hot water heater can chill down and take a break, and your air conditioner can work less hard (keep the house at 76 degrees F, say, instead of 70 (24 Celsius instead of 21). But I really don't need my dishwasher to talk to the power company.


    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      One thing you omitted which is probably important is that PSE was doing that mainly so that they could sell the electricity to those living in CA for a profit and to try and keep the building of new generation sources to a minimum. Not saying that it's bad, but it is important to realize that there wasn't really any power being saved in that fashion. The majority of power in this part of the country is hydroelectric and dirt cheap, it's not exactly an accident that so many tech companies are coming from her
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:08AM (#28745427)

      "able to tell your home that you are going on vacation. Your hot water heater can chill down and take a break, and your air conditioner can work less hard (keep the house at 76 degrees F, say, instead of 70 (24 Celsius instead of 21)."

      When I was a kid and we were going to go on vacation my mother would turn down the thermostat (you had to leave the furnace on in the winter so the pipes didn't freeze. In the summer the furnace was off anyway, pilot light out), and unplug the TV etc. so a surge couldn't hurt anything. Dad would turn off the hot water heater (which meant when you got home you had to wait for hot water). No need for an "energy manager." Have people gotten that lazy?

      PS: why do you need your air conditioner on at all when you're on vacation?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by muridae ( 966931 )

      75F instead of 70? I'll admit to turning my AC down to 70 if I know I'll be outside most of the afternoon and want to come back to a nicely cool room, but most days it stays set at 76. If I were leaving, it gets turned off. Completely. Yes, the heat stays on, set at around 48 or so. Like one of the sibling posts, when I was younger my family just turned everything off for a summer vacation. Even if it was just a two day vacation, everything electrical was unplugged. Furnace would get the pilot turns off if

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DavidTC ( 10147 )

      No shit. Forget this 'smart appliance' crap, and work on actually charging less for power at night, which, you know, is sorta a requirement for this to even exist at all.

      Once you do that, publish a schedule, and people will start using non-peak hours for that, manually.

      Then, and only then, do you invent a way to send said schedule over the power lines, both in a complicated 'rate by every hour' version and a simple-to-understand 'we are now a lower rate/hour warning for that ending/it ended' signal that c

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wvmarle ( 1070040 )

      In the Netherlands at least, and I think many parts of Europe, we have had two tier pricing for very long. Lower cost of electricity at night. And we didn't need smart appliances, just a timer clock here or there!

      Clothes washing: just switch it on when you go to sleep. Not many families have more than one load a day. And if you must well then that second load during the day, can't have it all.

      Dishwasher: meh. Don't need.

      Water heater for shower: get one with a 70-90l reservoir, and have it heat up to 90 C

  • by JorDan Clock ( 664877 ) <> on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:48PM (#28745323)
    I think the biggest problem is that all these devices are advertised as smart first, appliances second. They focus so much on the benefits of being able to access the "smart grid" or whatever, they don't do enough to tell the consumer that the appliances are good in their own right. I think if they make quality appliances with these features, market them as quality that also has "smart capabilities," they would probably sell better.

    I mean, sure, it's awesome that when my local power company rolls out peak and off-peak rates that my appliances can tell me when it's more expensive to use them, but I want them to be good appliances first. I want them to be efficient in the first place so I don't have to manage my usage by the hour. I already do enough to keep my appliance usage to a minimum to save money; I don't want to also manage when that minimum occurs.
  • No one is talking about taking away your lights - this is the exact opposite. By having people spread out their electricity usage, you guarantee that there is enough capacity for everyone. The grid is big enough that everyone can use as much electricity as they want; the grid is small enough that we can't all use it at the same time. These "smart" appliances are a stab at an optimization problem.

    Most of these appliances will have an override mode anyway, so its not that big a deal.

    And consider this - you sh

  • Ugh! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Saturday July 18, 2009 @11:59PM (#28745377) Journal

    My mother in law had off-peak rates at the family home, and you couldn't get a damned shower unless you could shower at noon. Mornings and evenings were both out. You also couldn't wash the dishes after dinner (she didn't have a dishwasher). That led to all kinds of idiocies like warming up water for the dishes on the gas stove--a real savings!

    Utility companies aren't out to conserve energy, and they're not out to help you save money on your bill. They're out to make money for their investors. If you want an example of utility monitoring, look no further than the elderly man in Michigan who froze to death in his home this past winter because there was some kind of governor on his electric meter. ( And he had plenty of money to pay--he'd just lost his competency to handle his bills. "Smart" appliances are an open invitation for this sort of idiocy to increase.

  • I would fight tooth and nail to keep utility companies and the government out of my home so far as HOW I'm using the energy I use. Why? Because if it's 105F outside, it's MY decision whether I want the air conditioner on. If I get up in the morning and my clothes are still sopping wet and sitting in the dryer because someone else decided it wasn't convenient to use that energy just then, there'd be hell to pay (especially if I got in trouble with my employer for being late to work because of it!). I also su
    • I can understand your unwillingness to completely give up your A/C. OTOH, there are things that can reduce consumption at peak times, simplest is setting the thermostat higher on peak hours, lower during off peak hours. It may take just a few per cent reduction in peak loads to avert rolling blackouts. A bit more involved means is to have a lot of thermal mass in a well insulated house, cooling the house at night and letting it warm a bit during the day.
  • in the hope of taking advantage of cheaper electricity rates

    I'm all for cheaper electricity, but at least in my city, I don't have to pay for rates; the electric company sends them to me annually for free, printed on a piece of paper.

  • by PugPappa ( 1569423 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:13AM (#28745463)
    As far as I can see, this whole smart-grid concept is being sold as a money saving move when it's really about convincing the citizenry to freely accept rationing, even ask for it. The whole basis for the smart-grid is the notion that we cannot or more correctly, should not generate more electricity. If this is allowed to continue, we will all be forced to accept a lower standard of living.
    • by babyrat ( 314371 )

      From the article:

      For example, a person can allow the clothes dryer to go into "conservation" mode when the utility signals through the smart meter that peak prices are in effect.

      Note the 'a person can allow' part.

  • by babyrat ( 314371 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:24AM (#28745521)

    The last link in the summary, regarding the student who was without power for two weeks has absolutely nothing to do with smart appliances or smart grids. Why is it even included? Perhaps an article detailing the rolling brownouts that some areas have had to deal with during times when demand is greater than supply would be more appropriate (and would be something that a smart grid could address in a better way).

    Oh wait, a balanced story detailing the pros and cons of an issue is probably way too much to ask for.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:28AM (#28745531)

    Ubik, I think, was set in a world were even the doors were 'smart' so you had to pay a toll every time you went in and out of your apartment... unless, of course, you had a screwdriver handy. Somehow I doubt that any 'consumer' really wants to live in a world like that.

  • An insightful article coming from kdawson? The world is about end! RUN FOR THE HILLS!!!

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:43AM (#28745607) Journal
    That the "Smart Appliance/grid" proposals seem to be skipping the simple, obvious, and substantially less problematic option in favor of a complex mess of remote control crap.

    Fact is, the farther from base load you go, the more the marginal unit of electricity costs. No getting around that, barring amazing advances in generation or storage technology. Because of that, there are clear efficiencies to be had if load that can be moved off-peak is moved off peak. Unfortunately, the "smart grid/appliance" setups that involve utilities remote controlling your stuff are invasive, complex, and downright paternalistic.

    Far better would be a simple price signalling mechanism. The electricity company's meter would report, every period(could be simple "off peak"/"on peak" could be each hour, could be each minute, could be each second, doesn't matter in principle) the cost of a unit of electricity consumed during that period and the value of a unit of electricity sent back to the grid during that period. The reporting would be via a standardized protocol on a standardized header on the unit and/or over the powerline and/or a standard wireless mechanism(again, details aren't wildly important).

    That reporting would be all. If I wished to adjust my usage to save money, I could purchase appliances capable of interpreting the standard electricity price information(either built in to the appliance, or in the form of a smart breaker box, that could turn on and off power to specific outlets). I could then program the device or devices to respond as I wished to price signals("AC: NEVER go above 80c, go to 68 if price is less than 10cents, go to 70 if price is between 10 and 15 cents" "Dishwasher: do not run if price is greater than 10 cents, unless override button is pressed").

    This scheme would have three major virtues: First, it would avoid the invasiveness of having somebody else control your home systems. Second, it would allow each individual to set his own priorities on the value of various uses of electricity, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Third, it would allow unconstrained innovation/optimization by device manufacturers in what options to provide and how granular to be.

    For instance, a computer could be set to manipulate its own ACPI settings according to the current price level, wifi devices could trade off between throughput, range, and power in response, AC could adjust target temperature, etc. Devices that store or generate electricity on site would know their own costs of operation, and only operate when economically viable. If a utility, for whatever reason, was facing capacity problems, they could simply raise the price of a unit sent back to the grid, to encourage local generators to start up.

    Obviously, serious configuration of the details in each device would be substantially beyond the interests(and quite possibly the capacity) of a lot of people. For them, manufacturers could simply provide a suitably small set of sane default options(probably the same ones that a one-size-fits-all policy would apply across the board). For complex programmable devices like computers and game consoles, interested organizations could even distribute suggested settings packages over the internet.
    • I was thinking along similar lines when California was having rolling blackouts in the early aughties. Should be simple to implement.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Darinbob ( 1142669 )
      The power companies are not controlling your appliances, you are. You can decide that you're willing to pay full price and buy as much electricity from them as you want, or you can decide to get the cheaper rates by having appliances that can shift the load to off-peak. There is no big brother here.

      Everytime someone says "why dont' they do X instead?" you have to realize that this is also being done. There are devices that don't talk to your power meter and just have timers. And there are also other dev
  • by jackb_guppy ( 204733 ) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @12:43AM (#28745611)

    I live in Central Florida and we had the "great" box in the garage that controlled A/C, Water-heater and Pool. For a ~$8 saving per month, the power company would send a signal over the wire to turn-off these items to save power on grid.

    I had small children that were are home and temperature in house soared to 95+ for hours on end. The A/C cycle time was to at most 80 degrees. We were running the system for 4hrs or more at night to bring the temp back to ~75 degrees.

    The pool was constantly green, causing more shock treatments and forcing us to run the filtering all night to catch up.

    Finally, had to power company "cut" the connection. Lowered my power bill, 20% since the internal systems did not have catch up.

    Also around that time, the power company was also cross connecting the meter with cable. The reason was to improve this control and let them read meter from afar. I had that removed when the power company would not warrant any damage that joining these isolated systems could cause since I was running multiple surge protectors. Lighting strikes were common, one hit the tree behind my neighbor's house taking out the power to back of the house (fried wires). Power Company tired to get me to leave installed after they offered upgrade my wiring to "full house" surge protecting - If I paid them $1000 to install it.

  • You mean the consumer is about to be sold equipment that has features we can't use yet!? Say it ain't so! I see stuff like this regularly.

    Remember the "64-bit' revolution of the CPU back 5 years ago? Friends went out and bought the same CPU they had in the 64-bit version and drooled over how awesome it would be to have 64-bit OS & apps. I told them all the same thing... it's a waste of money. By the time 64-bit becomes a viable option their CPUs will be long obsolete. Sure enough, only 1 of them s

  • Power usage plans similar to cell phone plans!
    Cheaper weekend and nighttime minutes! Plans with cheaper any time minutes!
    Calling the power company to add extra minutes to your plan (and extend your contract for 2 more years) when you discover you have more laundry than usual you need to get done this week!

    Won't this be wonderful???
    I can hardly wait.

  • And longer-term, a big question is whether consumers will want to deal with the hassle of optimizing household appliance energy usage themselves, or be willing to relinquish monitoring and control to utility companies with a concomitant loss of privacy. After all, losing one's copy of 1984 is one thing losing one's lights and refrigerator is another thing altogether."

    What them hell? The link for "losing one's lights and refrigerator" has NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS. It's about a woman who through an accoun

  • I'm waiting for GE to figure out how to build a fridge that lasts more than 3 years. The PFS22 I bought in 2006 has a failing main logic board. Ironically, the house I bought has a 1970s vintage GE fridge that is still running fine.

    So based on my experiences with this and other recent GE products, a GE-driven smart-grid will save gigawatts of power within a short time as all of its appliances die and cease operating. We'll all be cutting ice in the winter and back to the original meaning of the "icebox".


  • Step 1: Presume everyone breaks "the rules". Corollary: The more "rules" there are, the more people there will be who break them.

    Step 2: Impose measures to prevent such "rule-breaking," through which permission is granted by some Higher Authority to do... whatever. Examples: Digital Restrictions Management, Treacherous Computing, Windows Genuine Advantage, PlaysForSure.

    Step 3: Squelch the nay-sayers and their ilk, long enough for everyone else to accept it. The nay-sayers will eventually give in to th
    • Step 1: Presume everyone breaks "the rules". Corollary: The more "rules" there are, the more people there will be who break them.

      Step 2: Impose measures to prevent such "rule-breaking," through which permission is granted by some Higher Authority to do... whatever. Examples: Digital Restrictions Management, Treacherous Computing, Windows Genuine Advantage, PlaysForSure.

      Step 3: Squelch the nay-sayers and their ilk, long enough for everyone else to accept it. The nay-sayers will eventually give in to the inertia. Make object lessons of those who don't. Example: the MafiAA.

      George Orwell tried to warn us, but now even he has been silenced. By cowardly Amazon, no less.

      There needs to be a "civil rights" corollary to this. []

      Do you earnestly believe the average world citizen has less access to information [] than their counterparts of 25 years ago? 50 years? 100? 250? 1000? How about the ability to listen to alternative / unpopular viewpoints?

      Or the reverse: Could the average person a generation or two ago reach a larger audience than they can today? Are there more taboos?

      Do you think that there are more political prisoners today (as a percentage of population) than there wer

  • Where I live, homes are billed for their water and sewage based on how many bedrooms the home has.

    They don't monitor usage, because the meters are too expensive (however there is a mandate to replace it in a few years, but it's not yet determined if that will change the billing).

    I'm all for smart stuff, but I'd be happy if the billing were fair. I should not pay the same as my neighbor who has three kids, a spouse, and a larger lawn to water.

  • My very new Sharp TV has a lot of bells and whistles. One of them sounds pretty neat on the surface. If it's showing a dark movie, the screen dims a bit to preserve power. If it's showing a colorful movie, it brightens up for more contrast.

    And when you're playing a video game that can't make up its mind, the brightness is continually going up and down on this thing making it very distracting.

    Thankfully it's a feature than can be disabled.

  • We need appliances that are more energy efficient.
    And we need to have mandatory energy efficiency labels on appliances.
    Here in Australia, my Fridge, Washer and Dryer all have "star rating" labels that tell you how energy efficient they are. Electronics and electrical appliances should be required to carry energy efficiency labels. Devices such as the following:
    Fridges and Freezers
    Electric ovens and stoves
    Washers and dryers
    Electric hot water systems
    Fans and air conditioners
    Electric heate

  • But at least they're not being made by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
  • by DamonHD ( 794830 ) <> on Sunday July 19, 2009 @04:02AM (#28746289) Homepage

    I love the entirely ignorant and self-absorbed "I'm alright Jack" and "Keep the Gubmint Outta My Fridge" and "I want the right to burn dioxins on my own lawn" comments.


    For a start there's at least two sorts of appliance smartness that are useful.

    1) For example, load-shifting use until there is low demand on the gird. Sometimes that electricity can be practically free (or even negative price) and reduces infrastructure costs (hardware built to cope with a smaller peak) and reduces use of often dirty and expensive 'peaking' plant. You don't have to subscribe to Climate Change to see this as a good idea. And yes, for the average family home the main candidates are the dishwasher and the washing machine. Just avoiding running your dishwasher right after dinner (until you go to bed or optimally ~3am) in the UK right now saves circa 100g CO2 emissions each time for no inconvenience at all usually: [] []

    And indeed right now since the highs and the lows are at fairly fixed times then a simple timer will do a good job: not much Big Brother smartness there.

    But as more intermittent power such as wind comes on line, those 'excess power available' moments will be less predictable. A really smart dishwasher lets you run it just when you want to, but if you're not in a hurry you could set it for "make sure it's done by the morning, but try to pick the time for minimum costs/emissions". I already do this in my house.

    2) Balancing the grid cycle by cycle is a separate issue. In the UK fridge/freezers alone correspond to a base load of ~2GW. If a 'smart' fridge notes that the power frequency has dropped because the grid is struggling then it can postpone restarting the compressor so as to stay within normal temperature limits but coast a little while on its store of 'cool'. It might also suspend any auto-defrost for example. That helps keep the house lights on (yours and everybody else's) without spoiling your butter or denying you any rights at all. Last year we had a major nuke trip out in the UK and 500,000 people across the UK were 'load shed' and lost supply entirely. If all the fridges had been smart they may well have stayed on line without anyone noticing. []

    Hyperventilating about "communists" turning off the lights and freezer is so childish I find again /. posts failing to meet the IQ levels that I assumed were necessary to type. %-P

    This is not to deny that such a mechanism can be royally f**ked up by individual governments and utilities, but going purple in the face while ignoring that the alternatives may well include more blackouts or higher prices, even ignoring climate-change issues, doesn't help.

    Note: I already do some of this at home. I still haven't voted communist (though they may have had a local candidate here for the last elections).



    • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Sunday July 19, 2009 @04:59AM (#28746441) Homepage
      A well written & informative comment - to which I thought that I would reply rather than mod up.

      The big thing to note is that we are not talking about the white meter system that we have had in the UK for decades, this gives you cheaper electricity at night for powering storage heaters and the like — although I have known people also run washing machines, etc, off them.

      The big new innovation is getting appliances to switch off for short periods, eg when the adverts come on in a popular TV programme many kettles are switched on. Also when a major generator trips out it can take time to bring something else big on-line, the smaller quick-start generators are costly. Currently this is done by bringing in more expensive generators for short periods [], also large industrial users (eg Aluminium smelters) will get cut at very short notice.

      So the idea is to switch off your freezer/washing-machine for 5-30 minutes so that other more important appliances do not need to be switched off. Thus we all gain at little inconvenience.

      However it is something that is to the benefit of everyone if we work together. Those freetards who do not cooperate get the benefits without the cost or inconvenience, but this happens elsewhere, eg: vaccination, if most of the population is vaccinated against mumps then the best strategy for an individual is to not get vaccinated and thus avoid the small risk of vaccination side effect; however if everyone does this then mumps becomes endemic again.

      Come on guys - we are civilised and know how to act in the common good!

    • "Smart meters" (Score:3, Interesting)

      by golodh ( 893453 )
      I think we can distinguish between two types of "smart" meters:

      - (a) meters that let information flow *into* our house from the electricity company (like "supply is currently tight, minimize your usage"). To which we can either instruct our own appliances to respond like "Ok, if it's really tight now I'll wait 20 minutes", or empower the "smart" meter to tell an appliance "Appliance XXX, switch to standby until I tell you to restart".

      - (b) meters that let information flow *out* of our house to the electri

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."