CES 2011: GE Brillion smart appliances monitor energy usage

Consumer Reports News: January 08, 2011 03:31 PM

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Here at the Consumer Electronics Show, GE is making a big deal about its upcoming line of so-called "smart" energy-saving Brillion appliances. The line, which covers everything from thermostats and water heaters to dishwashers and refrigerators, aims to save consumers money on their electric bills by determining exactly the right time to perform each appliance's most energy-consuming functions. But how does it all work?

The most important thing anyone interested in smart appliances—whether made by GE or any other manufacturer—is that your building needs to be outfitted with a "smart meter" (an electric meter that communicates detailed usage information back to the utility company) More precisely, you need a smart meter that utilizes the ZigBee wireless protocol for communicating.

Without a smart meter, these smart appliances provide no additional benefit than any other Energy Star-certified appliances.

Since you can't just replace the meter on your building, you'll need to ask your electricity provider if your meter meets the required standards. If not, you should ask when the utility company plans on upgrading its meters. A rep for GE tells Consumer Reports that most U.S. homes will be outfitted with a smart meter by 2020.

If you do have a smart meter, then the technology inside smart appliances like GE's Brillion line allows them to determine the optimal time at which to perform certain tasks. For instance, the Brillion refrigerator will wait to run its defrost cycle until it's most cost-efficient. The company's GeoSpring hybrid electric water heater operates only in heat-pump mode during periods of peak costs. The company claims this reduces wattage by over 80 percent compared to a standard electric-tank water heater.

Other devices, such as the dishwasher and the washer and dryer, ask users if they want to delay running loads until more cost-effective times. They also have low-energy options for saving money during peak hours. And because we can't always wait to do dishes, wash clothes, or defrost the freezer, all energy-saving settings are easily overrided by the user.

Along with the Brillion appliances, GE is introducing its Nucleus Energy Manager. This device allows you to communicate via your computer with all your smart appliances, even non-GE ones. You can use the Nucleus interface not only to manage those appliances, but also to monitor your electricity usage and time-of-use rates for your electricity.

GE has not yet made prices available on the Brillion line. A rep for the company estimated that the price difference between a Brillion model and a comparable Energy Star-certified model will be about the same as the difference between that Energy Star appliance and a standard one. The Nucleus will retail for around $200.

—Chris Morran

 

Chris Morran

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