Electricity Choices for Tomorrow
Where will smart appliances fit in the modern Canadian home?
Smart appliances are being developed by multi-national firms for use in Canadian homes. While widespread uptake may be several years away, the supporting electricity infrastructure is now being developed; ultimately, however, consumer acceptance will dictate the speed and scope of adoption and the role they plan in an evolving energy landscape.
- Smart appliances, that is, smart grid-connected refrigerators, clothes washers and dryers, water heaters, dishwashers, and other household appliances, even home security systems, have long been touted as a vital link in the smart grid value chain. Taking advantage of digital two-way communications between smart meters and home computer networks, householders will be better able to monitor and control their electricity usage, by using their smart appliances in periods of lower electricity time-of-use prices. In the winter in Ontario, for example, optimal time is from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. provided the customer is on time-of-use pricing rates.
- The role of the electric utility in the smart appliance space is still rather ill-defined. At both the commercial and residential level, utilities have for several years been actively deploying demand response programs to smooth out periods of peak consumption. In these programs, water heaters or thermostats respond to explicit requests made by utility control centres to reduce electricity demand. Smart appliances, however, respond directly to the price provided by the smart meter, using that as an indirect indicator of demands on the grid system and prompting the owner to action.
- Today’s electricity grid was designed to deliver electrons, not information. Despite widespread customer over-ride options, Demand Response programs are still very much “command and control” systems managed by utility planners and operators. Smart appliances, on the other hand, rely on detailed pricing information in order to encourage customers to make use of an increasing array of functions. The implicit assumptions are that utilities can supply that information at a cost that is of value to the customer, and that some, and eventually most, customers want programmable, responsive appliances. Both assumptions are currently being tested through pilot programs across North America — the results, however, are not yet conclusive, but will shape the features of our developing smart grid.