Whirlpool Corp. plans to produce 1 million "smart" clothes dryers by the end of 2011, a step toward the company's goal of making all of its appliances smart grid-compatible in six years.
The company's Smart Energy dryers will respond to peak-energy prices by lowering power consumption, saving money for homeowners and easing stress on the electric grid, Whirlpool said as it announced the initiative yesterday. For people who pay variable prices for electricity, the dryers could save an average of $20 to $40 a year, the company said.
"Peak electricity demand drives disproportionately higher energy costs," said Mike Todman, president of Whirlpool Corp. North America. "There are great opportunities for home appliances to shift energy consumption outside of peak hours without forcing consumers to compromise on performance."
The smart dryers were spurred by a stimulus grant from the Energy Department's $3.4 billion Smart Grid Investment Grant Program, a broad effort to transform the grid into a two-way electricity Internet. Whirlpool won't say how much money it was given, only that it was getting less than $20 million to accelerate commercialization.
Whirlpool in 2006 became one of the first appliance companies to conduct a smart grid pilot when it tested 150 Smart Energy dryers in the Pacific Northwest. The federally funded study found that when a grid sensor observed a peak demand event, the dryers turned their heating elements off, reducing power demand by 95 percent.
DOE is hoping smart appliances will help the United States move away from fossil fuels that are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions. Deploying 1 million smart dryers would offset the need for 10 coal-fired, 500-megawatt power plants, Whirlpool said.
About 61 million U.S. homes have electric clothes dryers, and 17 million have natural gas dryers, according to recent federal statistics. Electric dryers, which use electricity to generate heat and operate motors, consume about 5.8 percent of total household electricity.
Whirlpool would be one of the first to enter what could be a major market for smart appliances that can be remotely controlled by utilities to use energy more efficiently.
General Electric Co. has announced it will roll out by November its first commercial smart appliance, a hybrid electric heat pump water heater. The company said the pump will save consumers $250 a year in energy costs, with the opportunity to save more through automatic 85 percent reductions in peak-hour energy consumption.
Other "demand response" appliances expected to enter the market are refrigerators able to delay defrost cycles and dishwashers that delay operation until overall energy demands decline at night. Taken together, smart grid-enhanced home appliances could shave up to 7 percent off U.S. peak demand through 2019, according to a recent report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But such reductions will require the rapid deployment of smart appliances and meters able to communicate with utilities through a mix of wireless or land-based networks. FERC estimates that there are about 8 million smart meters installed in homes today, with several million more expected after DOE releases its next round of stimulus awards.
Wanted: customer incentives
For now, U.S. consumers have no incentive to buy smart appliances because they are unable to communicate with utilities, said Warwick Stirling, global director of energy and sustainability at Whirlpool.
"No appliance makers offer smart appliances for sale at this time," Stirling said in an e-mail. "If a consumer purchased one, it would not have an infrastructure to 'talk' to today -- that is, no utilities are sending communications."
Manufacturers of appliances and smart meters are waiting for the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to finish a comprehensive set of smart grid standards. The standards are aimed at guiding manufacturers along technological paths and avoiding competitions -- such as that between Betamax and VHS videotapes in the late 1970s -- which reduce investment in and development of new products.
NIST last week unveiled the first phase of its three-part action plan, a 90-page draft document outlining the first 77 standards defining how smart grid components will communicate with one another (Greenwire, Sept. 24).
The standards are supposed to provide a framework for companies investing in smart grid systems.
Whirlpool said its pledge to convert its entire line of products to smart grid by 2015 is contingent on the development by the end of 2010 of an "open, global standard for transmitting signals to and receiving signals from a home appliance."
Governments must also adopt policies that give consumers, manufacturers and utilities financial incentives to adopt the new products, Stirling said.
"There must be an appropriate policy framework to help ensure that rebates are available to consumers," he said.