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GE wants you...if you live on Maui

General Electric asks some Hawaiian residents to participate in a smart-grid experiment by hooking up their appliances to Maui's electrical grid.

The Maui Electric Company and General Electric are joining up to test a unique smart-grid technology on the Hawaiian island's electrical grid.

The Maui, Hawaii, project includes the usual smart-grid tech: developing a substation with battery storage capability to remove and store excess electricity generated from connected wind and solar energy sources. The electricity supply is then released from the substation to the main power grid when it's needed during peak usage times.

Many companies are interested in smart-grid energy technology. Google wants users to confront their home energy use appliance by appliance. IBM is jockeying to be a key supplier for smart-grid tech to utilities. Venture capitalists are investing in smart-grid start-ups.

What's interesting about the Maui Smart Grid project is that it's enlisting regular people to allow their appliances to participate in an electrical grid experiment.

General Electric released news of its Maui Smart Grid project via its employee-authored research blog, From Edison's Desk, on Wednesday.

"For example, consumers may 'opt in' to utility programs that automatically adjust high energy consuming devices, such as water heaters, during periods of peak demand and higher electricity prices," Devon Manz, an energy systems engineer and the project manager for General Electric's Maui Smart Grid, wrote in his blog.

The goal of the project is to see if regulating consumer energy demand can be used to deal with the fluctuations in energy production from renewable resources, according to Manz.

The work will help "GE identify the most relevant technologies for enabling significant penetrations of wind and solar power around the world," he wrote.

Clearly, it's an area the company is truly interested in.

GE's Consumer and Industrial division has already been experimenting with "smart appliances" used by Kentucky residents. The appliances wait for a signal from the power grid that it's a good off-peak time to run non-essential systems.