Which comes first, the smart grid or smart-energy appliances, or does it matter? Whirlpool Corporation says it will produce 1 million smart-energy-grid compatible dryers by the end of 2011, continuing the company’s “legacy of innovation and leadership.”
One niggling wrinkle about the announcement is whether the Benton Harbor, MI company would take this step on this scale without incentives provided under the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant program. Maybe so; the company says the stimulus funds being made available by DOE “will complement and accelerate the work that Whirlpool is already doing in this area.” In 2006 Whirlpool was the first appliance company to conduct a smart-grid pilot using 150 Smart Energy dryers in the Pacific Northwest.
That bit of cynicism aside, these new smarty-pants dryers are no fluff: They will be capable of reacting intelligently to signals from the smart grid – assuming there is a national smart grid someday (sorry, more cynicism) – by “modifying their energy consumption to save consumers money on their home electric bills,” Whirlpool says.
In markets where utilities offer variable or time-of-use pricing, these dryers could save a typical consumer $20 to $40 per year, while also benefiting the environment, the company notes.
“Peak electricity demand drives disproportionately higher energy costs,” says Mike Todman, president, Whirlpool Corporation North America in the company announcement. “If the differences between peak and off-peak energy costs are passed along to consumers, then Whirlpool Corporation believes there are great opportunities for home appliances to shift energy consumption outside of peak hours without forcing consumers to compromise on performance.”
Widespread deployment of smart appliances will also increase the value of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, which are inherently variable due to weather, he adds.
When wind- and solar-generated power availability is reduced, smart appliances will allow for a temporary reduction of energy consumption, which will help ensure reliable performance by the electrical grid even during periods of peak demand. The deployment of one million smart grid-compatible dryers could shift the equivalent energy of 10 coal fired, 500-megawatt power plants, the company says.
Whirlpool holds several patents for this type of technology and this week’s announcement is part of a company commitment that by 2015 “all of the electronically controlled appliances it produces – everywhere in the world – will be capable of receiving and responding to signals from the smart grid.”
Of course there’s a caveat; the commitment is dependent on two public-private partnerships, Whirlpool says:
- “The development by the end of 2010 of an open, global standard for transmitting signals to and receiving signals from a home appliance; and
- “Appropriate policies that reward consumers, manufacturers and utilities for using and adding these new peak demand reduction capabilities.”
Actually Whirlpool’s green record is pretty good: It helped to develop the ENERGY STAR energy efficiency program. In 2003 it was the first appliance maker to set a global greenhouse reduction target. And Whirlpool is No. 78 on the Newsweek Green Rankings, a list of the 500 “greenest big companies” in America.
Maybe Whirlpool will be the smart-grid appliance leader, but don’t abandon the clothesline just yet.