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Sad but true
General Electric is set to launch a household power generation kit this fall, that will both work together with the smart grid and be a home’s own internal smart grid – powering down the A/C on a cloudy day, for example, in a house dependent on solar panels sold in the same package.

GE, which for years supplied Hitler’s government with radar equipment, and at the end of the second world war proposed a continuing alliance between business and the military for “a permanent war economy,”  announced last week its vision of a home full of smart appliances that derive power from the house’s own solar panels, all tied together by an energy management device that puts control in the hands of the user.

GE plans to sell the whole setup as a package to housing developers, and speculates it will be available as early as 2015.

The GE “Net Zero Energy Home” will offer a package that consists of energy-efficient lighting and appliances that respond to an included power management system, along with power generating devices like solar panels and residential-scale wind turbines. The company will begin rolling out the appliances this year, and expects them to have a premium of only $10 over current offerings. The lithium battery will be extra.

The keystone of the project is GE’s Home Energy Manager (HEM), a device that will monitor and synthesize data collected from all the smart appliances, as well as a smart thermostat, and make it available for the customer to view. The HEM is expected to cost between $200 and $250, and may allow remote control of appliances and their power usage. GE points to studies that indicate that most customers would like more control over the way their appliances consume powe.  GE says the ability to do so can reduce consumption by as much as 15 percent but this sounds like an underestimate.

The ultimate goal is to allow customers to shut down hot water heaters during overnight hours or force some energy-hungry appliances to use less power when running at peak times.

The on-site power generators in the package will be capable of supplying power back to the grid when in-house demand is low, but they will also be able to work with power storage systems (GE hasn’t been forthcoming about which tech it favors). In most cases, they should be able to sustain an entire house; for example, a 3,000-watt solar panel array could supply enough for a typical home’s consumption, GE executives say.

The additional cost of a setup and install for this sort of system is roughly $30,000. Although there was also talk of using residential-level wind power, nobody’s figured out how to get that to work at a reasonable cost. Presumably, it was included in the announcement because GE is a major vendor of utility-scale wind hardware.

The HEM monitoring system will also let consumers communicate their power usage to utility providers, a feature of the smart grid technology being developed in collaboration with Tendril, so that providers can use the data to better match supply and demand at regional levels. However, if customers do not wish to participate in the program, they will be able to turn the feature off.

Being realistic, the Net Zero label is mostly marketing. Even if a residential solar or geothermal pump system made sense in a given location, not everyone will be interested in adding $30,000 onto a house price in order to hit the zero point. Fewer still will want to install a giant lithium battery in the basement and get off the grid entirely. Still, the appeal of an integrated, single-source system may increase adoption in those locations where residential systems could provide significant returns.

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