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Monday, December 21, 2009

Can a dryer be smart and green?

Whirlpool Corp. has announced that it will make 1 million smart dryers by the end of 2011, setting a deadline for getting "smart" appliances on the market.

But what is a smart dryer?
The simplest definition is that it is a dryer (but the same holds for all smart appliances) that has some sort of interaction with the smart grid.

Some questions should arise in the curious reader:
  • what are the advantages of interacting with the smart grid?
  • do smart grids exist or will this dryer be a smart dryer in a dumb grid?
  • why is the first smart appliance a dryer?
Let's try to answer these questions.

1. Advantages of interacting with the smart grid

There is one main advantage by interacting with the grid: if the price of energy changes in real time, then users will be able to run their appliances when energy is cheaper, saving some money.

On the other hand, energy suppliers can use this feature to smooth out peaks in energy demand, and therefore avoiding the use of the most polluting and expensive power plants. Moreover, if the power demand from users depends on the real time price, then it becomes possible to generate much more power from renewable, intermittent sources, like wind and solar: when wind is not blowing or sun is not shining, then the price of energy will be higher, and your appliances will reduce their consumption to their minimum or postpone their jobs, while when sun strikes on the panels and wind blows on the turbines, then energy will be sold at a cheap price so that most of the energy consuming jobs are started.

2. Do smart grids exist right now?

This is a crucial issue. Even if smart appliances like this dryer are coming out, most of the power distribution grid is not broadcasting any real time price to their users! However, this will happen quite soon: in some states it is already possible to join some Residential RealTime Pricing Program.

What is still missing is a standard for real time price communication, and this is probably the main issue that has to be solved as soon as possible. People must be able to shop for smart appliances without worrying about if they are compatible with their local grid or not.

3. Why is the first smart appliance a dryer?

For one main reason: because dryers are one of the most power-hungry appliance in a regular American home! They are extremely expensive in term of power consumption, but at the same time you can usually postpone their operation to later times during the day. Therefore connecting their operation to the price of energy is a brilliant idea.

However, let me notice one thing: there are very very few dryers in European houses (at least in southern Europe)! Price of energy is higher, and therefore people learned how to use solar energy for that!


This is way more efficient and green than any real-time-price-driven, high efficiency, electrical dryer! :) And trust us, this is not impossible. Most European people do not own any dryer.