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Whirlpool wants to pull plug on 'dumb' appliances

A $19.3 million government grant will go toward a million smart-grid clothes dryers for sale by 2011 and a phase-out of appliances that can't communicate, company says.

Appliance manufacturer Whirlpool has received $19.3 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding as part of its Smart Grid Investment Grant program, the company announced Thursday.

Whirlpool, which markets appliances under the brand names Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul, and Bauknecht, joins General Electric in what seems to be a quest for designing the most well-behaved appliances.

The Whirlpool Duet washer and dryer is part of the company's 2009 line of eco-efficient laundry appliances. With Department of Energy funds, it plans to have a million smart-grid-compliant dryers ready for sale by 2011. Whirlpool

Similar to GE's smart-appliance ambitions, Whirlpool plans to develop home appliances that can connect and communicate with municipal smart grids. The machines will be able to receive signals from a smart grid, letting it know of off-peak hours, a good time to turn on and run.

Whirlpool, which will get its funding over a two-year period, plans to match the funds in order to have a million smart-grid-compatible dryers available for public purchase by 2011. The smart dryers will be manufactured in the United States, and the company estimates that the dryers could save consumers $20 to $40 per year in energy savings.

In addition to the smart dryers, Whirlpool has pledged that by 2015, it will discontinue making appliances sans the ability to communicate with smart grids. It will no longer make "dumb" appliances at all.

That promise, however, is dependent on a few things happening.

"This commitment is dependent on two important public-private partnerships: the development by the end of 2010 of an open, global standard for transmitting signals to, and receiving signals from, a home appliance; and appropriate policies that reward consumers, manufacturers, and utilities for using and adding these new peak-demand reduction capabilities," Whirlpool said in a statement.

Whirlpool's announcement follows President Obama's release this week of plans to overhaul the country's electrical grid to turn it into a smart-grid system. An estimated $8.1 billion is planned to be spent on 100 smart-grid projects in 49 states. Utilities themselves will kick in $4.7 billion, while the remaining $3.4 billion will come from the U.S. government as stimulus money.