By David Gill
It won’t be all 3-D TVs, computers, game players and DVD players at this month’s International CES.
Visitors to the world’s biggest consumer-electronics trade show will also see devices that will enable them to control their home appliances by connecting them to a smart grid. An entire “TechZone,” called Connected Home Appliances, will be devoted to these products at the show. Appliance powerhouses GE and Kenmore will be among the exhibitors in this section—which will be co-sponsored by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and Retail Observer magazine.
The technologies on view in this section will work toward integrating the products that wash and dry our clothes, wash and dry our dishes, keep our food cold and perform a variety of other home functions. They will do this by connecting these appliances to a smart grid, which uses broadband and other digital two-way communications in place of a traditional electrical grid to control the operation of appliances either at home or remotely, thus saving energy, reducing costs and increasing their reliability.
According to Deepak Joseph, senior director of technology and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association, anything that is plugged into the wall can become part of a home network controlled by a smart grid. Eventually, even small appliances such as blenders, coffeemakers, toasters and microwaves will be able to join such a network.
“Over the next five years, the potential is to have the whole home connected,” Joseph said. “This will include elements that will not only connect the appliances, but will provide diagnostics and troubleshooting capabilities. You’ll even be able to download recipes into your cooking appliances.”
Along with devoting space to the smart-home category, CEA has launched a campaign that will feature connected home appliances in direct-mail pieces that will reach more than 260,000 CES contacts, and e-mail alerts to more than 330,000 recipients. The association will also spotlight the section in targeted pieces, press announcements, the Preshow Planner and Official Show Directory, and on-site signage at CES.
Joseph said AHAM members have been active in formulating the concept of the smart grid. Joe McGuire, AHAM’s president, said, “The home is an essential component to an effective smart grid. Smart appliances and consumer electronics will allow consumers to save money on their electric bill and use energy in a more environmentally friendly manner.”
The Connected Home Appliances TechZone could prove to be a watershed event in the evolution of smart appliances. “By this time next year, we’ll actually see real-time feedback on the network,” Joseph said. “I’m confident that we’ll see an entirely connected home showcased at CES by 2014, and we could see that as soon as next year’s CES.”
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be bumps in the road toward developing smart grid-enabled appliances. “Some of it will depend on when the intelligence is inputted into the smart grid,” Joseph said. “Also, it will depend on the pricing of the products and their components, and how far the technology has developed.”
Other issues that could push back the full implementation of smart homes include the different technologies involved.
“The technology varies from device to device,” Joseph said. “The big debate now is how the technology will be deployed. How will we stack all of these products together to achieve the desired results—to smooth out total power consumption, convenience and control from the consumer’s standpoint when they’re not in front of the device, information on the proper operation of each device and the providing of routine service and troubleshooting?”
The issue of who controls these devices has brought about much discussion, according to Joseph. “Both manufacturers and consumers want control, especially when the grid is overloaded,” he said. “The grid controls are just now in the beginning stages of development.”
All of this being said, however, the presence of a dedicated CES section with connected-home products is a strong indicator that this concept is near at hand for consumers. The Connected Home Appliances TechZone will be located in South Hall 2 of the Las Vegas Convention Center, where CES will take place from Jan. 6-9.