Environment

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Mark Gormus, Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP
Handcraft Homes built this home in Powhatan, Va., June 26, 2009 under the U.S. Green Building
Council's LEED for Homes program.

GE Planning "Net-Zero Energy Homes" But Consumers Can Take Smaller Steps Now

July 15, 2009 06:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
General Electric is working on products and appliances that could slash home energy consumption to zero by 2015. Until then, there are technologies available to help consumers lower their consumption.

Greening Up Your Home

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GE’s “net-zero energy homes” will combine green power sources, such as solar and wind, with “energy-efficient appliances and on-site storage,” Martin LaMonica wrote for CNET’s Green Tech blog. A device called the Home Energy Manager will allow homeowners to “get detailed energy data and potentially control appliances,” according to GE executives, LaMonica reported.

The new appliances, which will be about $10 more expensive than traditional versions, and the Home Energy Manager are expected to be available in 2010. One of the technologies being developed would enable homeowners to set their energy-efficient appliances to shut down when not in use in order to save energy, according to LaMonica.

"I don't think any of us look forward to the day when we are monitoring hour to hour the cost of electricity. But I think all of us look forward to the day when we can set it and forget it,” Bob Gilligan, the vice president of transmission and distribution at GE, said.

Studies have shown that providing consumers with detailed statistics of their energy usage often prompts them to “find ways to reduce consumption by 5 to 10 percent,” LaMonica wrote.

A 2008 study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department backs up the notion that knowledge of consumption results in less consumption, according to The New York Times. The study suggested that homes with “digital tools to set temperature and price preferences” could potentially cut utility grids’ consumption by as much as 15 percent annually, eventually resulting in $70 billion saved “on spending for power plants and infrastructure.”

Related Topic: Creating a low-energy home

There are technologies available now to help consumers lower their energy consumption at home, as Peter Wayner of The New York Times blog Gadgetwise explains. A cell phone tool made by Tendril, called the Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem, will allow consumers to “turn appliances and furnaces on and off from a distance.” The tool will also combine with other gadgets to “track consumption and broadcast it to local and distant displays.”

Other emerging technologies include “dashboards that track energy use for homes, schools and businesses,” made by the Lucid Design Group; and a “a tabletop monitor that tracks meter use in your living room,” made by TED (The Energy Detective), Wayner reports.

Background: Reinventing the grid

The influence of technology on energy consumption could be extraordinary, as a 2008 article by Matthew Boyle in Fortune explains.

A “modern digital energy grid” could “replace a passive, analog electricity delivery system with one that is two-way and aware of what is happening to it at any moment.” The system will be expensive to build, but could result in significant improvements: a 10 percent reduction in national power use, and 25 percent less greenhouse emissions, for example. And the modern grid would “eliminate the need for $80 billion in new power plants,” according to government and industry estimates. Technological enhancements to the grid would include “computers, sensors, and networking systems,” reports Boyle.

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