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Arrival of Smart Appliances Is a Milestone on the Path to the Smart Grid

Smart appliances are providing residential power consumers with insight into their energy use, facilitating energy-efficient and eco-friendly behavior. As such appliances become widespread, we may see residential consumers reduce demand on a large scale without being unduly inconvenienced.

The year 2011 promises to be a watershed year for smart appliances. Samsung and LG have launched Wi-Fi- and Zigbee-equipped smart refrigerators and plan to follow up with a full suite of smart appliances by the end of the year, while home appliance giants Electrolux, GE and Whirlpool all have smart appliance products set for release within the next 6 to 12 months. Pike Research predicts that the smart appliances market will not take off in earnest until 2013. Also, they expect the market to grow to $26.1 billion worldwide, by 2019.

Smart appliances will play an essential role in the smart grid by facilitating large-scale residential demand response. By making residential appliances more efficient and shifting their usage from peak to off-peak periods, peak and average electricity usage will be cut. Lower peak loads, in addition to reducing long-term investment in expensive generation, will improve the health and stability of the power grid.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) studies show that residential customers currently provide only 17 percent of U.S demand response potential. With widespread adoption of smart meters and smart appliances, this proportion could rise to 45 percent. FERC predicts that technology-enabled demand-response schemes could reduce nationwide peak energy demand by 188 GW or 20 percent by 2019.

The relatively low adoption rates for residential demand response can be attributed to the lack of automated appliance demand response. Users will not modify their appliance usage patterns if the process is too inconvenient, complex or obtrusive. They also lack the motivation to track real-time power pricing in order to optimize their energy usage. This demonstrates the need for the automated and unobtrusive appliance management capabilities that smart appliances will offer.

"Research indicates that consumers are ready to engage with the smart grid as long as their interface with [it] is simple, accessible and in no way interferes with how they live their lives," a U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Whitepaper noted. "Consumers are not interested in sitting around for an hour a day to change how their house uses energy; what they will do is spend two hours per year to set their comfort, price and environmental preferences.... At the residential level, [the] smart grid must be simple "set-it-and-forget-it" technology, enabling consumers to easily adjust their own energy use."

What are smart appliances? The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) defines them as appliances which monitor, control and protect their electrical energy usage in response to customer needs. Smart appliances can sense their energy consumption, enable residents to view whole home energy usage, and provide feedback and advice on their energy use. Studies have shown that such feedback is vital, that the greatest power savings are achieved when residents are provided with energy usage data for each of their appliances.

In conjunction with home energy monitoring capabilities, smart appliances can communicate with a smart meter to receive dynamic real-time electricity prices, and automatically delay their operation to off-peak periods when prices are lower, adjust their usage patterns according to user preferences and respond to load control requests from utility. Their ability to automate all these tasks is very important, as it enables residents to use energy in an efficient and eco-friendly way with minimal effort.

Smart appliances may have other functions. For example, smart appliances can also download customized washer/dryer cycles for specific clothing types, such as a particular brand of sports gear. The appliances can provide users with end-of-cycle notifications or alerts, such as "fridge door left open", via text messaging.

Other issues which need to be addressed to facilitate smooth smart appliance adoption include:

Dynamic pricing: rates must be structured to make it worth consumers' while to adjust their energy usage, and justify the added expense of a smart appliance.

Standards: appliance interworking standards must be agreed upon by appliance manufacturers to enable residents to mix and match smart appliances from different manufacturers within the same home network.

Control and Privacy: consumers must retain final control over their appliances and choose to opt in to demand response programs. They must also own their energy usage data, determine who has access to this data, and what is done with the data.

Smart appliances are a small but important piece of the smart grid architecture. Other elements include smart meters, distributed generation capabilities, renewable energy sources and hybrid electric vehicles. As each of these elements is added to the power grid, the vision of a cleaner, more efficient and smarter grid becomes more of a reality.


  • Abiodun IwayemiAbiodun Iwayemi is an IEEE Student member and PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. He is currently working on the IIT Perfect Power Smart Grid project being deployed across IIT’s main campus. His research interests include energy management systems for home automation networks, non-intrusive load management, and wireless sensor networks.

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  • Chi ZhouChi Zhou received bachelor’s degrees in automation and business administration from Tsinghua University, China, in 1997. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern University in 2000 and 2002 She taught at Florida International University from 2002 to 2006, and since 2006, she has been an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.


Abiodun IwayemiAbiodun Iwayemi is an IEEE Student member and PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago...
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Chi ZhouChi Zhou received bachelor’s degrees in automation and business administration from Tsinghua University...
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Richard WalshRichard Walsh is an application services director in the global strategic solutions group at S&C Electric Company...
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Pedram SamadiPedram Samadi received bachelor's and master's degrees from Isfahan University of Technology in Iran...
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Hamed Mohsenian-RadHamed Mohsenian-Rad received a master's degree in electrical engineering from Sharif University...
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Vincent W.S. WongVincent W.S. Wong is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering...
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Robert SchoberRobert Schober is a professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Electrical...
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Ganesh Kumar VenayagamoorthyGanesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy a senior member of IEEE, is a professor of electrical and computer engineering...
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