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GE to test energy efficiency of smart homes

A $5 million Department of Energy project will measure whether high-tech tools, such as electricity monitors and smart appliances, coupled with solar panels can cut home energy use by 70 percent.

GE's Nucleus software which displays real-time and historical energy use.
GE's Nucleus software displays real-time and historical energy use.

General Electric will provide digital energy technology for a research project to test how energy-efficient homes can be with smart-grid products for consumers.

The $5 million Department of Energy program will equip homeowners in the western U.S. with GE's Nucleus home electricity management system, with LED lighting, and with connected appliances. Homes will also be equipped with solar panels.

The project will evaluate whether the combination of on-site power production through solar and energy management technology can reduce energy usage by 70 percent in both new and existing homes, according to GE.

Basing calculations on U.S. averages of about 11,000 kilowatt-hours of power consumption per year and a rate of 11.33 cents per kilowatt-hour, the savings from a 70 percent reduction would be over $850 a year.

GE's Nucleus, which is due to be commercially available next year, is a small device about the size of a cell phone charger that acts as a network hub and data storage medium. It connects to a smart meter, a wireless thermostat, and any other network-enabled gear, such as smart appliances or devices plugged into a smart plug.

It collects that information to give consumers a Web-based dashboard with detailed electricity information, such as real-time usage and pricing, and stores three years worth of home energy data. GE executives have said they intend make a Web site available, accessible from a PC or smart phone, for free.

By monitoring information more closely and programming the thermostat, consumers can find ways to cut back electricity use such as turning off idle electronics or having appliances run when off-peak, and cheaper, electricity rates are in effect.

GE estimates that consumers can reduce use by as much as 30 percent through monitoring and utility demand-response programs that encourage them to conserve during peak times. Electricity generation through solar panels can cut an additional 40 percent.

The project, expected to last for three years, will be run under the DOE's Building Industry Research Alliance (BIRA) and include participation from universities and five utility districts in California and Arizona, according to a GE representative. Between 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost will be paid by companies involved.