GE Expands Smart Grid Efforts to Include Home Energy Management

GE Expands Smart Grid Efforts to Include Home Energy Management

Image courtesy of GE

GE launched a new energy management business today aimed at helping consumers use smart grid technologies to reduce their household energy use.

GE's new Home Energy Management (HEM) unit brings together a range of smart energy products under one umbrella in anticipation of widespread smart grid technology deployment in the coming years.

Already the company has rolled out several smart grid-ready products, including a water heater, refrigerator, and dishwasher. They are meant to complement a home energy management system called the Nucleus, which acts as a data storage and communication hub linking these appliances to the electric grid.

All are designed using open protocols to encourage interoperability with other smart gadgets from different vendors, Dave McCalpin, HEM general manager, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We very much believe that open protocols are the way to go. We're not naive enough to believe we can control the world."

Still, the move sends a signal to the market that GE is determined to be a major smart grid player. Other companies, including big names like Google and Microsoft, have introduced applications to help consumers track household energy use in recent years, but they don't produce the appliances that tap into the network.

"From our perspective, we think that part of the reason we're headed down this road and committed to being a leader in this space is because GE is uniquely positioned," McCalpin said, noting the company's experience both on the utility side of power generation and transmission, to the consumer-facing appliance side of the business.

"We bring that consumer voice to the table," he said. "We bring the power and potential of the smart grid into consumers' hands."

The Nucleus Energy Manager will debut early next year in the $149-$199 range, essentially a small computer that links to in-home smart meter, smart appliances, and wireless network within the home. It displays on a PC or smart phone, where consumers can monitor energy use and track electricity rates, set thermostat controls remotely, and program appliances to operate at times when electricity rates are at their lowest.

Current smart grid-ready products include a refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer, hot water heater, ranges, microwaves, and dishwasher, with plans for more. In addition to some general smart grid advertising campaigns and participating in consumer-facing electronics forums, the company is also laying the groundwork for "when the time is right for a broader-based consumer education campaign," McCalpin said.

GE is also focusing on educating public officials and utilities, helping them to visualize the potential impact of smart grid technologies on the residential market. Utilities, McCalpin said, now largely represent the front line in introducing the smart grid to consumers.

"A lot of it is in their hands, in terms of how fast the market is going to evolve here," McCalpin said. "As utilities roll out residential smart meters and start to connect homes to the smart grid, the utilities are going to be at the forefront of helping consumer become aware of what that means for them."

A video of the Nucleus Energy Manager is available here.

Image courtesy of GE.