GE Spotlights Smart Grid Projects for Utilities, Industry and 'Net Zero Energy' Homes

GE Spotlights Smart Grid Projects for Utilities, Industry and 'Net Zero Energy' Homes

General Electric has taken the wraps off a series of smart grid developments ranging from projects in Maui, Canada and New Zealand to showcase the benefits to utilities and industries, to appliances and technology for "net zero energy" homes.
The news from GE on Tuesday was the latest of a growing number of major smart grid ventures involving products, projects and partnerships. On Monday, IBM and Cisco announced they will work with Amsterdam in its pilot project to establish the first "Smart City" in the European Union. Last Wednesday, GE unveiled its plans with the U.S. Department of Defense to make the world's largest Marine Corps base into a model of smart microgrid systems technology.

The company introduced its new products and projects at a day-long media briefing, the first component of a three-day smart grid symposium presented by the firm at its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y. (Full disclosure: was GE's guest at the media presentation and the company paid my expenses to attend.) Discussions with customers and business partners are being conducted today and the chief technology officers of GE's various lines of businesses meet on Thursday. The meetings precede the release of GE's report on its second-quarter earnings, which is scheduled for Friday.

In the media sessions, GE executives took the opportunity to recap its ecomagination strategy and lay out the company's vision of the smart grid and the technology that will connect buildings, homes, cars with energy sources to enable greater energy efficiency.

"The smart grid to us is analogous to an energy Internet," said Bob Gilligan, GE's vice president for transmission and distribution. "The catalyst and the key to the grid is the development of open standards."

GE's overview of smart grid technology. To see a large version of the chart, click here. GE

GE and Google have been strong advocates for better federal and state policy to foster a grid that is bigger, smarter and more nimble with greater connectivity.

Open standards enable flexibility and accelerated smart grid development, said Gilligan, who drew a parallel to the iPhone, its open platform and the creation of some 50,000 applications in just two years. From a business standpoint, open standards create opportunities for any number of companies. So why is GE promoting this?

"GE has a lot of smart people, but we don't have all the smart people," Gilligan said. "The smart grid is not just a GE solution. We do support this open environment — it's critical to the health and optimization of the smart grid."

Collaboration has become a hallmark in smart grid ventures. Like other major players in the growing field, GE is engaging with public and private business partners in many of its prominent ventures. For example, GE is partnering with Cisco Systems, Florida Power & Light, Silver Spring Networks and the city of Miami to deploy smart meters homes and businesses in Miami-Dade County.

In light of the comments on open standards and cooperation among competitors, a reporter for the Financial Times Deutschland asked executives of the world's largest industrial company to describe its relationship with of another global powerhouse, the electronics and engineering firm Siemens.

"We are rivals -- and we are working together" said Mark Little, GE senior vice president and director of GE Global Research. "Having open standards does not mean having generic products."

Indeed. One of the recurring themes throughout the day was that GE wants to give customers more choices and greater control through more intelligent energy management. While a smart grid with open standards supports that concept, GE of course wants customers to choose GE products and services (a fact that dovetailed with the company's other major theme of the day: that GE's experience, size and multiple lines of business make it well positioned to address smart grid opportunities and challenges).

To that end, the company has developed smart appliances for residential use, including a hybrid electric heat pump water heater, that can work with utility smart meters and demand response programs to ease the draw on the grid during peak periods. The products coupled with a demand response program can also help customers cut their electricity consumption and their energy bills by using power when it is cheapest.

GE showed off some of its smart appliances -- the water heater, a stove, refrigerator and washer and dryer -- as well as its Home Energy Manager to reporters on Tuesday. GE considers the control device the cornerstone to the company's suite of appliances, new technology and renewable energy systems that can make new and existing homes generate as much or more power than they consume, resulting in a net zero energy dwelling.

GE, whose goal is to be first to market with an array of products for a net zero energy home, says the energy manager, a smart thermostat and the appliances are expected to available next year. (Whirlpool said this spring that it plans to roll out smart appliances, but not until 2015.) GE estimated the premium for purchasing its smart appliances will be about $10. The energy manager is expected to cost $200 to $250. While the first wave of networked appliances and the control system are to be available soon and deployable with the participation of local utilities, other products and technology are still in development. GE has set 2015 as its target to make net zero energy homes a reality by 2015.

Overall, the three most critical action items for smart grid growth are deployment of proven technology that's now available, expedited development of open standards and driving development of smart grid policy, Gilligan said.

There are already opportunities to leverage system growth by optimizing demand, assets, delivery, reliability and renewables, said John Kern, the manager of GE's Smart Grid Research Lab. "The smart grid isn't about tearing down the existing grids and rebuilding them, it's about taking what's there and integrating the new systems with it," he said in an interview last week with

The projects in Maui, Canada and New Zealand each address one of the leverage points and are expected to demonstrate systems level benefits:

• GE is working with the Hawaiian Electric Company, Maui Electric Company, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute of the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy to help the Maui utility control peak circuit demand, maintain adequate circuit voltage levels, integrate renewable energy resources and deal with the variability of the renewables.

• In Canada, GE is working with the Eka Chemicals Plant in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which will be the first company to use demonstrate GE's new smart grid Asset Optimization service. That project is expected to show how utilities and industrial sites can improve productivity. At the chemical plant, the service is supposed to reduce the downtime caused by transformer problems, maximize transformer performance and help extend asset life.

• Orion New Zealand Limited recently completed implementation of the first phase of a network management system using smart grid technologies from GE to help improve power reliability for customers. The system is expected to improve Orion's ability to manage network emergencies and restore power more swiftly after outages.

Images courtesy of GE.