Energy management to ride coat tails of convenience
There’s a community in Texas where the refrigerator ice-makers only run during off-peak hours, the washers and air conditioners turn on or off with a text from a remote smartphone, and the dryers leave clothes practically ready-to-wear using 50% less energy. Most of those appliances there are from LG of Seoul, Korea, the tech giant’s VP of Public Affairs & Communications John Taylor told us in an exclusive interview this week.
One of the most well-known smart grid demonstration projects in the US is Pecan Street in Austin – run by the University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with the Austin Technology Incubator, Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Energy, City of Austin, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the EPA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), among others. The project has been testing the interconnected smart home ecosystem since 2008 at 1,000 homes in the Robert Mueller mixed-use development in Austin.
LG donated its line of Smart ThinQ appliances to the project and believes it could have a significant impact on how we use and monitor energy at home in the future, Taylor said. Not only are utilities taking notice, but firms such as LG are using the feedback from the project to define and refine their next-generation product lines.
The conclusive findings are to be released in 2015, he added.
“Feedback has been excellent on the project so far,” Taylor said. “The starting place of all of this is to develop the most energy efficient products on the planet.
“Our Smart ThinQ appliances – refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers, washers and dryers and air conditioners – already have the technology built in to be able to interface with smart meters – WiFi and Zigbee control, and remote programming via smart phone or tablet. They can shift functions to times of day when electricity is most inexpensive and they integrate other features that make them more energy efficient than legacy appliances,” he added.
“LG has been leading the way in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Smart program’s top-efficiency categories with our washers. Now, the new frontier is dryers,” Taylor said.
“We have a huge opportunity to conserve energy in the dryer space, and one of the things we’re most excited about is breakthrough technology we are introducing with our Eco-Hybrid Dryer. It is the first on the market to use both conventional drying technology and a heat pump to save as much as 50% energy,” he added.
“Heat pump dryers have been on the market in Europe for years,” Taylor noted. “There are different consumer expectations over there. Buyers don’t mind if it takes 2-3 hours to dry a load. That’s very energy efficient, of course, but also not really attractive to US consumers.
“Our Eco-Hybrid for the US market offers a combination of low-heat drying through conventional means and then recycling that warm air with the heat pump.” And LG cut the drying time to under 70 minutes. “We achieved 63 minutes per-load during the last trial,” he added.
QUOTABLE: We are working on some new products, including hub technology for home-energy management. Actually, LG already has some hub implementations in the field in Korea but we are not yet poised for an introduction in the United States. – LG VP of Public Affairs & Communications John Taylor in an exclusive interview
LG has positioned its Smart ThinQ suite of home appliances as “easy for the everyday consumer to use, not just the tech-savvy early-adopter crowd,” Taylor said. For example, with just a text to the washer-dryer units, users can access the LG Laundry App to find out how much time is left on their load, he added.
“With a text to the refrigerator, they can access a customized, preprogrammed shopping list for the grocery store.”
And for a busy mom or dad, the alerts available through LG’s HomeChat can make the day less stressful:
• No time for a shopping trip? The Smart ThinQ refrigerator does an inventory of items in stock and recommends a recipe that does not require any extra ingredients.
• Only a vague idea of when you bought those eggs? The refrigerator will track the expiration dates of the food stored inside and warn family members that some items are no longer fresh enough to be edible.
• Running out on an errand while a meal is in the oven? With LG’s Smart Range, users can use the smartphone app to monitor the remaining time, and the cooking time that has elapsed. When cooking is finished, an alert will be sent to the phone.
All of these smart convenience features drive adoption, Taylor said.
QUOTABLE: I think that consumers still are learning about how to manage their energy. There is certainly a core group of environmentally focused consumers that are really focused on this. However, most just want the convenience features that new technology offers. To drive smart grid capability, we have to attract them with other smart features. – Taylor
LG made its appliances easier to service, he added. The firm’s SmartDiagnosis technology helps customer-service representatives quickly and efficiently troubleshoot mechanical issues – limiting costly, inconvenient service calls and in-home visits. For minor problems – refrigerator ice-maker switched off or washing machine filter needing replacement – the appliance alerts the owner, either on its display panel or via the consumer’s smartphone or tablet, Taylor said.
Since issues can at times be identified without a technician visit, consumers save time and money. In instances where a service visit is needed, the field technician can come prepared with the correct parts, letting the repair be resolved in one visit, he added.
We asked whether the addition of internal electronics increase the need for service calls. “No, not at all,” Taylor said. “These are proven technologies. LG has been able to draw on the strengths of our consumer electronics base, our electronics business and our mobile business. That gave us an advantage.”
What’s next, we asked. “The beauty of these technologies today is that they are upgradeable,” he answered. “As technology evolves, downloadable software will keep our products up-to-date.
“We even have the software for demand-response programs. When the need exists, our appliances will be there.”