Will Smart Appliances Save Me Money While Saving The World?

Here at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, companies like GE and LG are showing off appliances that should be able to cut into your electric bill. But before you run out and pick one up, there are some things you’ll need to know first.

The most important thing you need to look into is that electric meter tacked onto the side of your building. If your electric company hasn’t installed a smart meter (i.e., a meter that communicates detailed usage information back to the utility company) that uses ZigBee wireless for communicating, these new appliances won’t be of any more use than the latest Energy Star-certified models. The best thing to do is contact your local electric company and find out if you’ve been upgraded to a smart meter and if there are plans to upgrade in the near future.

A GE rep estimated that most homes in the U.S. will have been upgraded to smart meters by 2020.

If you are fortunate enough to have a smart meter, then you’ll need to know exactly how these machines work to save you money and to use energy more efficiently.

Imagine you go to start a load in the GE Brillion dishwasher. If the device senses that this is a peak (and therefore expensive) time to run a dishwasher, it will suggest that you delay the load until a time when you’ll get the most bang for your buck. It is also set to automatically air dry dishes in times of peak use. Of course, if you need clean dishes now, there’s nothing stopping you from running the load immediately.

The Brillion washers and dryers have this same delay system and they have the option of running low-energy cycles if operated during peak hours. The Brillion refrigerator delays defrost cycles until non-peak hours.

GE’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% compared to a standard electric-tank water heater.

The company will also be selling its Nucleus Energy Manager for around $200. It’s a small device that communicates wirelessly with both your meter and all your smart appliances, even non-GE ones. Through your home computer, you can use the Nucleus’ interface to not only manage those appliances, but also monitor your electricity usage and time-of-use rates for your electricity.

What’s left for you to decide is whether or not the extra initial investment in a smart appliance is worth the long-term savings. Prices are not currently available, but the GE rep says that the incremental price increase between a Energy Star-certified and the smart, Brillion appliance will be about the same as the difference between a standard appliance and an Energy Star-certified one.

So if you’re someone who keeps appliances for more than five years, and if you’re not constantly overriding the energy-saving settings, then you should have no problem getting back that initial extra cost on the appliances.

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  1. nocturnaljames says:

    Electricity is so cheap, that almost all technology to reduce consumption is not worth the price. We aren’t going to see energy efficiency become a priority until electric prices soar, if they ever do. If you want to save electricity with your dishwasher, wash your dishes by hand.

    • AnthonyC says:

      Usually true, but not entirely, and likely to become less so in the future.

      Dumb meters charge the same price all the time- 5-20 cents/kWh depending on where in the country you are. This disguises an underlying fact: a kWh from the baseload nuclear or coal plant costs just a few cents, whereas on hot summer afternoons and cold winter nights, gas peaker plants that are very inefficient and run for

      Add in growing use of wind and solar power- these produce intermittently, and for now, there is no way to store large amounts of power. Price changes need to happen to ensure that electricity gets consumed as it is produced. It’s about shaping demand to match supply, since supply is less dispatchable than it used to be.

      • tooluser says:

        The whole idea behind smart devices is that someone who has presumed themselves smarter than you will be able to shut your devices off at their whim, not yours. Or they will be able to charge you a higher price at their whim, not yours. Or that they will chide you and guilt-trip you into doing their bidding, not what you want. Highly offensive nonsense.

        • DH405 says:

          I haven’t seen many smart devices with these kill switches that you say exist. The appliances SUGGEST when to run the power-hungry processes. They don’t ENFORCE it by refusing to operate during peak.

          • tooluser says:

            Incorrect. Capricious programming allows pretty much anything to occur.

            The kill switch is already in place in many areas for air conditioning units. I know someone who signed up for this “kill switch” reduced rate service. The power company said that the service would never be turned off for more than 30 minutes. But in fact it’s often turned off for hours during the summer months.

            Hey, but you’re saving money by having someone else tell you to not buy what you wanted to buy. Isn’t that swell?

          • veritybrown says:

            In exchange for a slight reduction in your power bill, our power company reserves the right to turn off power to your air-conditioner whenever they want during the summer. Sorry, cut-off switches do exist.

            • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

              Those have to be installed, are not part of the appliance, and you must give permission for them to do so.

            • DH405 says:

              That’s not just a smart appliance. That’s a smart appliance in combination with a VOLUNTARY program from the power company. Yeah, if you agree to give someone control of the AC in exchange for savings, then that person has control of the AC. Seems like pretty simple logic.

      • Master Medic: Now with more Haldol says:
        • Sneeje says:

          I think you need to do a little more digging. There are other smaller, cylindrical designs that work on a more localized scale. The problem with wind power is not that it isn’t viable, just that it requires the solution to be scaled to the environment in which it is to be used–and sometimes that means you can’t do it on a large scale. Wind turbines provide a significant portion of the power in Denmark and some of the other European countries.

          It is widely accepted and has been known for decades that individual natural sources of energy would never replace all the power sources used today–it will require a combination of many and conservation to achieve a sustainable balance.

          • cspschofield says:

            Maybe. But the more digging I do, the less viable wind generated electricity looks. Everywhere it’s been tried as part of a large grid, it has had to be backed up by its entire capacity’s worth of fast-firing generators of a more reliably kind (usually gas) ….. or by something like coal or nuclear that is left ‘on’ all the time. In which case the wind turbines are pointless window dressing. Every country I know of that has invested in significant amounts of wind power has found it to be a pork-filled boondoggle. I’ll look into your assertion about Denmark, but I am increasingly disappointed.

        • leprechaunshawn says:

          And the Liberals in this country want to be just like Europe?

        • EnergyStarr says:

          the Daily Mail is not a legitimate news site.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        The meter itself doesn’t “charge” you anything. It just records how much juice you use. That information goes back to the utility, and they decide how much to charge you for the amount of electricity that you used…and other than possibly legal regulations, there’s nothing to say they can’t charge you more based on time of year or volume used, even with a dumb meter.

        Slightly different, but same idea…my local gas utility (dumb meter…just reads volume used) started billing on a tiered plan. The first 30 therms you use cost X. Therms 31-110 cost 1.75X. Therms 111-165 cost 1.9X. Etc. Don’t need a smart meter to do that either.

  2. newname says:

    As I understand it, a fridge’s defrost cycle actually uses less power. It doesn’t turn on a heater, it turns off (or down) a cooler. So wouldn’t it make more sense to schedule the the defrost during peak times, so the more energy-intensive “chill back down” period afterwards is off-peak?

    • lockdog says:

      No, most fridges do have a defrost cycle heater. I can actually see the red glow from mine if I look in the freezer at just the right angle during a defrost cycle. If the freezer had to cycle off long enough for the coils to thaw everything in the compartment would (partially) thaw too.

  3. Benny Gesserit says:

    I’d be afraid a “smart” washer would say “I didn’t bother washing those jeans and that t-shirt. You wear them ALL the time and, well, they’re not that flattering for someone of your… size.”

  4. Groanan says:

    Energy management is all well and good, but if we could just stop having future generations of humans we can all start eating whale meat while running the air conditioning at near freezing temperatures in the Summer with the windows open.

    If everyone starts using these, and power demand is never at peak levels to trigger peak charges, wouldn’t the power companies just raise the cost uniformly on all of us?

  5. Alvis says:

    The ultimate fail of all this is that devices can’t turn themselves on. Hence, they’re a little bit on ALL THE TIME.

    When my dumb washer is off, it’s OFF.

  6. Southern says:

    What if your electric company charges a flat rate for electricity, I.E., they don’t charge a different price for using electricity at noon than they do at midnight?

    • LINIStittles says:

      If / when your electric company installs a smart meter on your property, your electric tariff will be changed to “dynamic pricing,” which helps you save money / creates incentives for consumers to shift demand away from peak.

      • tooluser says:

        On the contrary. The entire purpose of smart metering is to maximize profits for the electricity company. To see it any other way is to deny basic economics.

        • Ragman says:

          No, to believe anything else is to fall for the marketing hype.

          The last time I saw a dynamic pricing plan for smart meters, the rates were all around higher. The off-peak rate they listed was about what my regular 24/7 rate was at the time. I’m glad my area is going to be one the last around here to switch over. That way all the lawsuits and complaints about the new meters scamming people will have had the most time to shake out.

        • Mom says:

          Utilities, at least in the US, are regulated. The rates they charge are controlled by some outside entity. What this means in reality is that they’re allowed to charge rates that give them a profit. If they can’t profit, they can’t stay in business, and we’d be trying to charge our laptops with bicycle powered generators. At the same time, the rates are limited by the regulating agency, so that they can’t make “excessive” profits. Investors don’t invest in utilities to make big gains, they invest in utilities to have a steady income stream.

          What smart meters do is they allow the utility to do dynamic pricing. Dynamic pricing gives an incentive for people to voluntarily cut their consumption during peak hours. Utilities build power plants to account for peak consumption. If people use less during peak times, even if they’re using more at other times, the utility doesn’t have to spend as much money on power plants. Rates (theoretically) are lower across the board, because power plant construction is a huge expense, and since the utility is regulated the regulating agency isn’t going to allow them to charge for a power plant that isn’t built.

          At least that’s how it works in theory.

          • tooluser says:

            In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is a difference.

            “Smart” devices are all about getting people to change their behavior. Not for the good, but for the increased profits of someone else.

            You cannot deny the following: Someone expects to make money off these things.

            That someone is NOT YOU, the purchaser. You will receive less of what you wanted, and they will make more money by your decision to voluntarily or involuntarily harm yourself.

            That’s not good consumerism.

          • ChuckECheese says:

            About this theory of yours … so how many power plants are actually being built? Or even, how much extra capacity has been added to power plants over the past decade or two?

      • gman863 says:

        Nope.

        CenterPoint is currently in the process of replacing millions of meters in the Houston area with smart ones. For doing this, the Texas Utility Commission allowed them to tack a $3 monthly fee on all residental users effective last year – even though the project may not be completed until late 2012.

        In Houston (although CenterPoint is the actual electric utility) consumers have to choose a Retail Electric Provider (REP) and usually enter into a one or two year contract to “lock in” a KWh rate.

        How many of the 40+ REPs are offering a rate plan based on demand or time of day?

        Hint: Take the number featured in the title of a U2 hit (later remade my Mary J. Blige) and subtract the number below the “!” symbol on your keyboard.

        • Southern says:

          GMan and I are in the same geographical area, then.. Because while my meter was changed out to a “Smart Meter” some time ago, my rates have not, and have no intention, on changing. Apparently the only thing they’re doing with these smart meters (at least for the moment) is reading them for your usage remotely, and they don’t have to send out someone to “Read” the meter.

          Electricity utilities in Texas are deregulated, and have plenty of competition with each other. That’s why we can get a rate, right now, as low as 7.0¢ a KW.

  7. momtimestwo says:

    I’m drooling, I want it all! I do know that my water bill went down $20 in one month after getting a front load washer. Unfortunately my 20 year old avocado colored dryer just keeps going and going and going…

    • wellfleet says:

      That’s ok. Dryers, no matter the bells and whistles, still just blow hot air. Auto-dry features work poorly, and rely on your drying the same type of items at the same time: not realistic for the way most people do laundry. The best way to make your dryer more efficient is to have a great washer that wrings a maximum amount of water from your wash. So, you’re probably in great shape!

      • Southern says:

        I think the best way to make your dryer more efficient is just not to use one. ;-)

        I use my clothesline whenever possible.

  8. Outrun1986 says:

    If the appliance breaks quicker or the technology becomes outdated and needs upgrades as most new things these days seem to need is it really worth it?? Are there more things that can break on something like this than a conventional washer and what is the repair cost? Can it even be repaired 10 years down the line or will it become outdated so quickly that you must choose replacement if you have a problem? Will the company cease support for it so that replacement parts are impossible to get? Is it worth it to buy something like this when the one you are using works just fine?

    Repair cost and longevity are definitely things you need to consider with this especially if its an appliance you depend heavily on or if you absolutely cannot afford large repair bills.

    The local appliance repairman we use can fix a washer or dryer for a low cost, obviously depending what the parts cost, but its usually around $70 on a conventional washer, I doubt these could be repaired for that little of a cost.

    • Rachacha says:

      Not much is changing with the basic function of the appliance. All they are really doing is adding a simple microprocessor and a simple communications circuit to talk with the electric meter (that talks with the electric utility). As they are not adding a bunch of complexity, the reliability of the appliance should not be impacted.

      • huadpe says:

        Sure, unless any of that stuff fails. Every added component is a potential failure point.

      • hansolo247 says:

        And when the proprietary, expensive electronics break, will the appliance still run?

        I’m pretty sure the appliances are designed NOT to run without the mother brain, however similar to a standard model they may be. If you’re handy, you can probably hack it…but remember the DMCA.

  9. gman863 says:

    Nope.

    CenterPoint is currently in the process of replacing millions of meters in the Houston area with smart ones. For doing this, the Texas Utility Commission allowed them to tack a $3 monthly fee on all residental users effective last year – even though the project may not be completed until late 2012.

    In Houston (although CenterPoint is the actual electric utility) consumers have to choose a Retail Electric Provider (REP) and usually enter into a 1 or two year contract to “lock in” a KWh rate.

    How many of the 40+ REPs are offering a rate plan based on demand or time of day that takes advantage of Smart Meter technology?

    Hint: Take the number featured in the title of a U2 hit (later remade my Mary J. Blige) and subtract the number below the “!” symbol on your keyboard.

  10. PHRoG says:

    You know what would be REALLY cool? Dump all this Smart Meter, Nucleus Energy manager, GeoSpring Hybrid mumbo jumbo. ZigBee? Comon!

    All we need is wifi, web interface and user adjustable settings…that’s it. Every power company I’ve dealt with featured lower pricing during the evening/night. Or we could…you know, call and ask them, then plug in the data.

    But no…that would be too cost efficient and it certainly doesn’t have enough cool names.

    • hansolo247 says:

      Mine doesn’t…same price all the time.

      I know when the smart meters are installed, that rate will be the off-peak rate, and the peak rate will be much, much higher.

      All of my poor friends have $3-400/mo power bills now (yea, part of the reason they’re poor), and this will easily increase that 50%.

    • Mom says:

      Ummm….ya gotta have the smart meter in the first place for this to all happen, because dumb meters can’t tell how much power you’re using in the daytime vs at night.

      Smart appliances, however? Not so much. And even if the smart meter tech is rolled out with no way to tell exactly what you’re getting charged on a minute by minute basis, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if I do my laundry at 2 am, it’s going to be cheaper than if I do it at 6 pm on a 100 degree day.

  11. Woodside Park Bob says:

    What do you mean “If you are fortunate enough to have a smart meter,….” Those meters are not a benefit to the consumer. They are a benefit to the power company by letting them charge you more to use power when you want or need to use it rather than when they want you to use it.

    For example, they will charge you premium rates to run your air conditioner when it is hot, but it will be cheap to run it at night when it is cool and you don’t need it.

    I’m all for saving energy; I’ve installed high efficiency appliances, furnace, etc., and even installed a large solar panel array on my roof, etc. But “smart” meters should be banned.

    • Blow a fuse? I can fix that... says:

      Well, duh! The extra power generation needed to cover peak usage is pretty expensive, so by installing smart appliances, you can avoid putting additional strain on the power grid and power plants at just those times. Most things are more expensive when demand is peaking, and you can save money (or time) by adapting.

      So sure, run your A/C when it’s hot out, by all means. But perhaps you would not be too inconvenienced by having your dishwasher run when it gets cooler outside, and less people are running A/Cs?

  12. Extended-Warranty says:

    Light bulbs waste tons of energy.

    My mother’s home has a chandelier in the kitchen that runs 5-60 watt bulbs. Ugh, if you’re going to run 5, run 40 watt energy efficient bulbs. Energy efficient bulbs use 1/4th the total energy as normal. Don’t think you are saving money by buying cheaper bulbs up front.

    • tooluser says:

      Run whatever bulbs give you sufficient light. Life isn’t about conserving energy. It’s about being an actual human being, destined for greatness in your own way, and using the resources you decide are necessary. Don’t let other people run your life. If you need 60 watts then use 60 watts. Achieve your destiny.

      I love lower wattage CFLs because I live in a warm climate and they do not generate much heat. But they do generate toxic mercury disposal hazards and they are more expensive and some of them burn out way before their stated lifetime and they take a while to get to full light and sometimes they do not fit in existing fixtures. CFLs have a whole litany of defects that incandescent bulbs do not.

      Lower-wattage CFLs are a worthwhile trade-off in my case for most of my light fixtures, but not for all people.

  13. Pasketti says:

    My dishwasher has a nifty “Four Hour Delay” button on the front.

    Whenever I load the thing in the evening, I hit that puppy. Not because I get cheaper rates – we’re flat rate all day – but because I inevitably find One Last Dish that didn’t notice when doing the initial load, or because I can get a snack and then put the bowl in the dishwasher and have it run with everything else.

    It seems to me that if people were on dynamic rates that they could show a little initiative and just hit the button themselves if they didn’t need to run the thing immediately, and save all the costs associated with all that extra hardware.

  14. Erika'sPowerMinute says:

    Well sheesh; I don’t need a computer chip to tell me to open my dishwasher to air dry the dishes or to put a load of wash in late at night.

  15. Chris 'Lethos' Bourton says:

    I think it’s a Big Step forward, for the energy companies in the way their business model works.
    Yes of course, this is going to end up reducing the overall costs for the energy companies.

    Since one of the Difficulties for Energy companies is dealing with sudden peaked (spike) usage, which is actually occurs at very predictable times of the day.
    Consistent high usage isn’t a big problem in comparison, it’s just when for a few minutes everyone is suddenly turning on a lot of devices in their homes/offices.

    The demand of energy in this peaked (spike) usages, which can be as much as 2 to 4x the normal for the entire day; Thus, is one of the main causes behind brown and black outs.
    The major reason why Energy companies keep having to build more power plants, is not really because average power demand has gone up significantly, it’s more the peaked (spike) usage has.
    So they had two choices, when re-investing their money either;
    Keep building (mostly) huge Power plants, like Nuclear power – Which Gets them lots of Negative PR.
    Or
    Use a smarter system, that regulates power usage to reduce those spikes in usage
    +
    Invest (mostly) in Greener sources of Power plants – Creates less power, but better for PR.

    They can pass those savings on to the customer, maybe they won’t straight away, but this business decision is one that is overall better, since it does save them money, which once the initial overhead in the change is out of the way, even if it’s harder to see right now.
    I do say this, knowing personally the people who designed the technology.
    Some will say I’m bias, but this is truly what they wanted to create with this technology;
    A more efficient Energy Grid, while also passing on savings to customers, by reducing costs.

  16. hansolo247 says:

    And that computer will be running all the time.

    Is there really going to be savings? Really?

  17. mbz32190 says:

    Just what I need….more advanced appliances with electronic components that are most likely to fail right when the warranty is up. I’ll stick with my 15 year old “dial” dishwasher (I don’t run the heated dry anyway), my plain-jane fridge, my top load washer, and whatever else.

  18. hypochondriac says:

    Will these appliances last that long? I wonder if we will be seeing headlines like smart appliance broke down part no longer made

  19. BradenR says:

    What good are smart appliances if you need to replace them every two and three years. Landfills are over stuffed now. Ge flaming dishwashers, shattering stoves, our Maytag washer (also up in smoke), and now the G E freezer with bad tubing! I am of t he opinion that the CEO’s really don’t care about how items are manufactured, just interested in sales now. Perhaps it would help if these CEOS were forced to extend warranties. Yes the cost would go up but they might think twice about how soon their items hit the landfill.

  20. gman863 says:

    There are much easier, low-tech ways to accomplish the same savings:

    * Programmable thermostat (about $50). It won’t forget to throttle back the heat or AC when you leave for work or go to bed.

    * CFL bulbs (about $2 each). A 60-watt output CFL uses only 13 watts; a 100-watt output only 23 watts. They also last 8-10 times longer than standard bulbs.

    * Energy Star appliances. Replacing a 10-15 year old refrigerator can cut your electric bill by as much as $60/year.

    * Heat-pump electric water heaters. I’m stuck in an all-electric house. Last May I spent $1600 on a GE GeoSource water heater (If you’re thinking “WTF?”, keep reading). Although about $1200 more than a regular electric water heater, I got a state energy rebate of $375 and a federal energy tax credit of about $500 leaving a net difference of $325. I run it in EcoMode (heat pump only) and my electric use has dropped by between $25 – $30 per month. By next May I will have saved at least $325, from there it’s all money in my pocket.

  21. FrankReality says:

    Only if you can get someone competent to fix them when they break and if parts are available. If not, “Too bad, thanks for playing”.

    We have a dual heating system – it’s a heat pump which has added to our LP gas furnace. It is on a separate off peak meter for which we get a discounted electrical rate. In heating mode, at temperatures 25 degrees and below it uses LP gas, for above 25 degrees it uses the heat pump. For cooling the heat pump reverses and provides air conditioning.

    I’ve been collecting heating degree days, LP gas usage and electric data for heating since we got it with the goal of attempting to figure out how much it actually saves and to attempt to predict our LP usage given long range forecasts. We haven’t had it long enough to determine its impact yet.

    Someday I hope to set up a solar or wind system, but at this time neither are cost effective for where I’m at.

  22. webweazel says:

    First, most of this technology is simply more shit to break, and much more expensive to repair. Electronic components in appliances always seem to be priced in the stratosphere. What is the return on investment of these fragile appliances long-term? What’s their expected lifetime? How long is the warranty? One year? Bite me.

    Second, what about those areas where residents made conscious decisions to reduce energy use by installing expensive solar panels, wind turbines, and other measures to reduce their energy use. THEN the electric company raised everybody’s rates because they weren’t making enough money, AND dropped the rate paid to those who sold excess energy back to the electric company. More people cut energy use, and the electric company raised the rates again, and dropped their excess use payments again. It’s like some sort of futile death-spiral.

  23. ChuckECheese says:

    The problem with these smart and energy saving technologies is that the savings are almost always outstripped by the cost of purchase and ownership. Not to mention the annoying complexity of these things. The other issue is that with these technologies, like with home or auto loans, trying to get a job, and other such economic pursuits, is that there are two sides that claim to be wanting the same things, but one side (the larger institution) is actually trying to manipulate the situation hard for their gain at your expense. The publicly stated goal(s) are only a distraction while the real shenanigans go on from their end, mostly out of view. For instance, power companies want you to think that the reason you’re buying a washer with a cockpit sized control panel is to save money and electricity and water. But there will never be a lot of electric savings realized, and the companies will move quickly to recoup any income lost. What the companies really want is more information about your power consumption, information that they can use to manipulate prices and supply to their economic advantage, at your expense – after all, you’re the one paying the electric bill. None of these technologies make money sprout from barren dirt and they have to make money somehow. Ultimately they’re looking for ways to make more $$ with less investment of resources on their end. In Phoenix, people are being more energy efficient, and using less energy. So now we have a large number of fees tacked onto our monthly bills, and the utilities are gunning for rate and fee increases in a recession (we’re nuclear here folks). APS is charging about $40 a month in fees to my account. The actual kWh charges are now referred to as ‘cost of generation,’ and my actual usage is only about 1/2 what I pay each month. There’s no way to get out of that other half.

  24. jessjj347 says:

    What wireless spec do these use – G? If so, I’d be worried about even more interference with my wireless G router. Appliances themselves already run on the same unregulated frequency.