The Home of the Future is Here

By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: May 22nd, 2012

NEW ORLEANS—When it comes to smart appliances, “There’s a lot there to be excited about, but also be very cautious about.”

 GE’s smart washers and dryers delay their start until energy rates go down. (Photo By: GE)

GE’s smart washers and dryers delay their start until energy rates go down. (Photo By: GE)

That’s the advice from Brian Sloboda, senior program manager at NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network. During a Connect 2012 session on “The Smart Home of the Future…Today,” Sloboda took a look at some of the new technologies—and the issues they raise.

One of the biggest issues: privacy.

For smart appliances to work, a central control unit has to be installed in the home. Those generate a lot of data today—with the prospect of a lot more to come.

“Who owns that data?” Sloboda asked. The co-op? The member? The appliance manufacturer?

“This is going to be one of those privacy issues that you need an answer for,” Sloboda said. “That data is extremely valuable.”

That brings up another matter.

“When you’re talking about ownership,” Sloboda said, “it then goes back to where all this data is stored.”

And how will members react to utilities controlling appliances? Many co-ops have demand response programs allowing them to control central air conditioning and water heaters. The next steps could involve everything from washing machines to electric car chargers.

“Do people get really happy when you turn off the A/C when it’s really hot outside?” Sloboda asked. “The water heater they generally don’t notice. But people will notice when they hit the button on the dishwasher and the dishwasher doesn’t turn on right away. Some consumers won’t care, while others will be inconvenienced. Most programs will involve some sort of override button.”

And he told co-op communicators to be ready for a range of questions, such as, “How much are you raising the inside [temperature] of my refrigerator, and is it going to be safe? Am I going to get food poisoning?”

Finally, Sloboda asked what might be the $64,000 question: “Do consumers want this stuff?”

The sense among communicators at the May 17 session was that the answer is yes—if it saves money. And for that to happen, the co-op needs to have rates that encourage using energy at off peak times.

“This starts to impact so many variables,” Sloboda said. “It really does require a very serious, thoughtful discussion, both at the co-op and your G&T.”

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