A Smart Future for Major Home Appliances?

Lisa Arrowsmith, Smart Home Market Analyst, IMS Research


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Historically, networking in major home appliances has been mainly restricted to lifestyle and convenience applications in ultra high-end products for a niche target market. Examples include Bluetooth -enabled fridges that let you transfer photographs from camera-phones, or broadband-enabled appliances for web-surfing or recipe downloads. Remote diagnostics have also played a role in the inclusion of connectivity protocols in home appliances. However, these functions have failed to result in widespread consumer adoption of networked appliances. Appliance makers are betting that all this will change with the introduction of smart' appliances. The term "smart appliance" refers to the ability of an appliance to respond to signals from utility companies (either via an AMI network or parallel broadband infrastructure), with the ultimate goal of reducing energy consumption during periods of peak demand - ideally with little disruption to the consumer. Some of the more sophisticated architectures being touted include fridges that delay the coil defrost cycle during periods of peak electricity demand, and clothes dryers that temporarily deactivate the heating element while retaining spin functionality upon request by utilities. Two of the leading major home appliance manufacturers - GE and Whirlpool - are being particularly vocal about the launch of smart home appliances, although many of the other leading players are also either developing or trialling prototypes. Whirlpool announced last year that it will make all of its electronically controlled appliances capable of receiving and responding to signals from smart grids by 2015. However, this is dependant on a global standard for home appliance communications being defined by the end of this year. Whirlpool also assumes that purchase incentives will be offered to consumers or manufacturers. GE has also made a lot of noise about its smart appliance trials and associated partnerships; the launch of a GE smart water heater; and subsequent announcements regarding the opening of a number of smart grid-enabled appliance factories in the coming years. Tangible volumes of smart appliances could come as early as next year when Whirlpool promises to roll out 1 million smart clothes dryers. While consumers will pay a premium at first for this functionality (the size of which could depend on government incentive programs), once time-of-use pricing becomes more widely adopted consumers would reduce their energy bills. What does this mean for component suppliers? Lack of interoperability standards and delays in implementing real-time electricity tariffs could dampen the lofty ambitions of Whirlpool and GE. Still, the introduction of smart appliances continues the trend towards more electronics in home appliances. Advanced motor and system control are now found in appliances of all types. To meet stricter energy efficiency standards and improve performance, appliance designers have incorporated inverter-based variable speed motor control into washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and room air conditioners. Displays and system controls are increasingly using higher end microprocessors. IMS Research forecasts that revenues from 16- and 32-bit microcontrollers used in home appliances will more than double by 2014. Smart appliances have the potential to push growth in micros and other semiconductors even higher in the long term. www.imsresearch.com