By Jonathan Marshall
Here’s another reason to never look up from your smartphone: Now you can control your air conditioner remotely, reset your washing machine’s cycle, or monitor the efficiency of your refrigerator with a Panasonic Smart App.
The catch is you have to buy one of Panasonic’s premium smart home appliances—and an Android phone—to take advantage of their advanced capabilities.
So-called smart appliances from the likes of Samsung, LG, Whirlpool and GE were all the rage at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January. One of their chief selling points is their ability to adjust operations based on energy price signals sent by electric utilities. By throttling back when prices are high, and running instead during periods of lower demand when prices decline, these appliances can lower your monthly bills.
Market researchers predict that more and more consumers will whip out their credit cards—or their mobile payment apps—to buy such high-end networked appliances. Smart washing machines will lead the way, mainly because consumers find it easiest to defer using them until off-peak hours to save money.
“The global market for smart appliances will likely reach $7.7 billion in 2012,” said SBI Energy analyst Darren Bosik, author of a recent forecast. ”Expansion through 2016 is expected to occur at a five-year compounded annual growth rate of nearly 8 percent to reach $11.3 billion.”
Another market research firm, Pike Research, last year claimed its crystal ball could see all the way out to 2019, when it anticipates the global market for smart appliances will reach $26.1 billion annually. “While technology standards have been slow to develop,” said research director Bob Gohn, “the pace is now picking up and appliance manufacturers are readying themselves to launch products in increasingly greater numbers.”
Both firms predict that one of the major drivers will be consumer interest in taking advantage of potential savings through utility programs that reward customers for reducing energy use during periods of peak demand. Smart meters and home area networks will enable these savings by creating seamless communication between utilities, customers, and programmable appliances.
The smarter your appliance, the stiffer the purchase premium you’ll likely pay, however. Whirlpool’s new smart washing machine, available next year, reportedly will sell for more than $1,500. For that princely sum, “instead of having to run out to check to see if it’s time to put the clothes in the dryer, you get an alert on your device,” according to USA Today. How cool is that?
Even champions of the smart appliance movement, who tout the potential for refrigerators to suggest recipes or report when you’ve run out of milk, concede there will be limits on consumer acceptance. Says Warwick Stirling, global director of energy and sustainability at Whirlpool, “You’re not going to be Facebook friends with your fridge.”
Oh yeah? Speak for yourself, Mr. Stirling.
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