Can the consumer-friendly brand of GE put a face on the smart grid?
The industrial giant on Tuesday introduced two products--a home energy management system and electric vehicle charger--which are some of the most tangible aspects of what GE CEO Jeff Immelt on Tuesday called digital energy. The products were announced in tandem with a $200 million award competition to spur smart-grid technology ideas.
Both the Nucleus energy monitor, which will cost between $149 and $199, and WattStation electric vehicle charging pedestal are expected to be available next year.
The Nucleus home energy monitor and energy management system is a small device, about the same size and shape as a mobile phone charger, which can monitor and control connected appliances. It will only work with a smart meter that uses the Zigbee wireless protocol, which means it will only be available to consumers who are customers of utilities that have installed and activated smart meters.
With Nucleus, people can see their energy usage in real time through a PC or a smartphone application. Studies have shown people reduce electricity use by about 10 percent with more detailed and regular information. The device, which connects into an Internet broadband router with an Ethernet cable, will be able to store up to three years' worth of energy data; future models will have a removable data storage option.
By communicating with a smart meter, Nucleus will let people program appliances to take advantage of off-peak pricing plans offered by utilities that have time-of-use electricity plans. GE is making a line of networked appliances that can go into energy-saving mode when a utility sends a request to lower usage. The peak-time modes can be manually overridden.
There are dozens of companies already making home energy management systems, which typically use a home network to communicate with devices and the utility. GE has the a familiar brand and Zigbee-aware appliances, but its biggest advantage may be its relationship with utilities, which could recommend the device as part of smart-meter programs.
City EV charging
The WattStation electric vehicle charging pedestal is made for charging electric vehicles for use in cities, university campuses, or businesses' office parks.
Industrial designer Yves Behar designed the WattStation so that it would fit into well in cities and stand in contrast to gas filling pumps, he said during a press event announcing the $200 million competition and new GE products.
"This would replace a parking meter," he said."It will integrate into the urban landscape so they become part of the everyday."
The controls of the charging station are meant to be very simple to use, and the device itself can be a platform for other information services, Behar said.
GE plans to announce in the fourth quarter this year the initial pilot tests for the WattStation, said GE Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock. The charging pedestals, which will cost between $3,000 and $7,000, will also be tested as part of Project Get Ready, an initiative launched last year to prepare communities with electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The WattStation is designed to charge vehicles quickly, which will help differentiate the product, said Immelt. Getting a 24 kilowatt-hour battery up to full charge, which would take between 12 and 18 hours, can be reduced to 4 to 8 hours, according to GE.