We recently took a trip down to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit the operations of GE’s home energy management team and get an update on how things were progressing with the planned rolled out of their Nucleus home energy management system, which they unveiled with much fanfare at CES 2011. Fast forward a year later, and let’s just say things haven’t turned out exactly as they envisioned. Setbacks in the home energy management space, coupled with a slower than hoped for rollout of associated technologies that would make their solution work in more consumer homes, have impacted what those initial plans were.
GE, going into CES 2012 this year, was still hopeful in getting its Nucleus system out into the hands of more consumers as it continues to pilot the technology in various markets. A new smart-grid tied pilot program with their technology was just announced, and the company is continuing to develop energy efficient appliances under the ecomagination brand.
GE’s Mike Beyerle, who leads marketing for the home energy management program, spent a lengthy amount of time with us, talking about what GE has learned and what it still hopes to accomplish. Note this interview is edited for brevity and clarity.
EarthTechling: Tell us about the Nucleus system. Our readers are familiar with it a little bit already, but what is Nucleus, and where are you guys at with development right now?
Mike Beyerle: Nucleus is a home energy management system. It’s focused heavily on software, but a lot of focus is on the physical device, which is a small computer with several radios in it, which allows communication to your Wi-Fi system. It’ll also talk to your smart-meter on the outside of the house as well as to your smart products or your smart appliances inside the house. It uses those three radios to carry on those conversations.
It has a great deal of data storage as well as processing power. It’ll hold three years worth of your energy data, or other data as well. We have a full suite of home energy management products which complement it, so I’ve got my Nucleus, which is my brain, I’ve got a thermostat which will control my HVAC system and I’ve got control modules for each of my appliances so all of my appliances can be controlled via the Nucleus as well.
In addition I have things such as 120 volt plugs, which allow me to control other small devices that may not be worth putting a controller onto full time, or I’m less interested in energy usage on. I have in-home displays. There are 240 volt switches for turning off some of your large things such as old-style electric water heaters.
ET: Talk to us a little bit about how the system works in relation to power shifts on the grid.
Beyerle: So in the case of some of our products, for example, what you’ll see is that things like the refrigerator – let’s say it wants to go into defrost and it’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s the middle of August and everybody everywhere’s got their air conditioning turned on because they just came home from work and they’re all hot and sweaty. You would have a choice – you can either turn on another generator, or you can go to the refrigerator and say “hey, why don’t you wait about two or three hours before you do your defrost, that way I don’t have to turn the generator on.” and ultimately it saves all of us a little bit of money on the system.
When the price goes up, power grid operators send an announcement to everybody and say, “ the price is going up, I’ve got to buy expensive electricity. Would you like to do something, or do you all want me to buy expensive electricity?”
The Nucleus picks up that message, says “ok, the price in now high, what would you like to do?” So, if I go over to my dryer, the message shows up and it says “ Delay EP,” which is delaying for energy pricing. I can press start on it, but the dryer says “hey that’s great, but because the price of electricity is very high, I’m gonna wait for a little while until the price drops a little bit before I start up.”
That’s great if I’m waiting for a load of towels or something, but it doesn’t always happen that way in my life. Sometimes the price is high, but I still need to be able to get that soccer uniform dry. I forgot to wash the kid’s soccer uniform and he has a game this afternoon. What am I gonna do? Being the consumer, you bought the appliance; you’re in control of it.