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How The Internet Could Lower Energy Costs

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A West Coast pilot program is giving brains to household appliances by enabling them to connect to the Internet and gather information about real time energy costs and make decisions about the best times to kick on or power down.

Currently, 200 people are participating in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pilot called the GridWise Initiative to test water heaters, dryers, and thermostats that are connected to the Internet via wireless broadband. The testing, taking place in Washington and Oregon, uses market energy prices to determine peak energy consumption times. If the price is too high, the machines can resume at a different time.

The aim of the project has two prongs: to lower energy consumption and lower consumer energy bills. From Information Week:

50 dryers are equipped with a chip that will respond to instability on the power grid and shut off the heating units on the dryers for a few minutes. Spread across millions of homes, this program could provide a shock absorber in the grid, giving producers the few minutes needed at times of peak demand to bring new power online.

Whirlpool and IBM contributed and modified the dryers and water heaters for the testing period of the initiative. If successful, consumers could also monitor their monthly utility budget in real time to see if they are staying within their allowance.

According to Energy Priorities, power disturbances cost US businesses between $100 billion and $200 billion per year. PNNL’s GridWise project aims to divert energy traffic at peak times to avoid outages. In spite of these costs, Dennis Du Bois reports, the energy companies have spent little on prevention.

“The utility industry spends less on research and development than the dog food industry,” Bonneville Power Administration’s Steve Write is quoted as saying. “That’s amazing considering the opportunities that technology gives us to provide better service to consumers.”

In an early phase report on the GridWise Initiative, RAND Corporation estimated that the gross benefits of the program could exceed $100 billion.

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