Desmarais envisions a day when every device in the home will connect to a smart grid. GE has developed a software platform for home energy management called Nucleus that's designed to plug into the smart grid of the future. The grid is not widespread yet, but in the meantime, there are products that take advantage of existing technologies to give people more control over when their appliances run and when they don't. For example, a company called Nest Labs offers a smart thermostat that connects to your home Wi-Fi network and lets you adjust temperature settings using an iPhone or schedule automatic temperature increases or decreases via the Web.
In the home of the future, the smart grid may connect to your appliances, your lights, your air conditioning system and the electric car in your garage. Credit: General Electric.
Unlike in Masdar -- a newly constructed metropolis where a smart grid can be implemented by fiat -- adoption of smart appliances in the U.S. likely faces a tough road, says Bob Gohn, an analyst at Pike Research. "There are a number of pieces of the puzzle that have to come together before smart appliances make sense from an energy perspective," he says -- standards need to be approved, utilities need to create tiered pricing plans, and smart meter technology needs to evolve.
The big hurdle, he says, is that a smart appliance has to integrate into a home's smart grid, called a home area network (HAN). The ZigBee standard ran into a roadblock in 2009, says Gohn, because the first iterations used a proprietary protocol, not the more standard TCP/IP.
Lately, Gohn says, ZigBee has started to adhere to standards like those being developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that govern smart grid device interoperability and power use. The Smart Energy Profile 2.0, a set of TCP/IP-compliant standards developed by ZigBee for controlling and monitoring water and energy use in the home, is nearing approval, but Gohn says compatible devices won't be available until 2013.