Smart Stuff is coming. It will appear at Sears, and Best Buy, and Thayer Appliance, and then it will be in your home. And that’s a good thing.
All of these energy-using appliances are necessarily on a diet, but there’s only so much more efficient they can get by internal means, such as more insulation and higher quality components. By connecting to the grid, and receiving signals to throttle back their energy usage, they can autonomously shed load when it’s really necessary, and in most cases you won’t miss any of the performance. If the refrigerator throttles back during the heat of the day when electric demand is at a peak, and lets the internal temperature go from 34F to 35F, the eggs won’t mind so much for an hour, and if everyone’s fridge does it, it might prevent a blackout, which makes everyone miserable, and everything in the freezer melt.
Adding people to the loop is the second frontier, and while a little more difficult really great resource savings can be realized. At Stanford, a group has developed the Smart Switch, http://nudges.wordpress.com/two-stanford-students-rethink-the-light-switch/ which relates force to energy use, or whatever variable gets programmed into its microcontroller. That’s pretty neat, and a lot more technology in that vein is coming down the wire, so to speak. Brendan Wypich is a pretty cool guy and crackerjack designer, and he has some other great things in his portfolio.
By placing people in the loop, it’s not just about throttling back the A/C when you won’t notice, but shaping behavior as well. If it’s harder to flip the switch, you might not flip it, and even when it’s not peak usage time, your thought process might include an avoidance of turning on unnecessary lights. The technology is persuading you to keep the electric bill down, in real time (as opposed to at the end of the month when the bill arrives), and this should do a much better job of it, being more temporally salient (a nudge at the right time has much greater effect than one not so close to real time..
The future is bright, in an efficiently lit way.