Smart Appliances and Energy

Smart Appliances and Energy

With more and more household appliances using microprocessors to add “smart” features, their energy consumption can become an issue.  In fact, even the dormant state of these appliances can consume significant amounts of electricity.

One of the worst offenders is the now ubiquitous cable TV box, of which my house has half a dozen.  These use power to retain state.  This is superficially reasonable, since the catalog of the next several days of TV shows is part of that state (as is all the personal settings.)  Downloading this catalog takes several minutes, which would be annoying for most consumers, who want “instant” access to their TV show listings.  As these boxes contain Internet connections, which take time to establish a connection, there will be a tendency to use power to maintain that connection 24 hours per day.  Here some design work is required to minimize energy consumption while maintaining fast reaction times when the TV is turned on.

Now we move to refrigerators.  One can imagine quite a number of applications for a microprocessor in the refrigerator.  Recipes from the Internet that pop up when a food bar code is scanned, or entered into the computer, but probably a more useful feature would be an inventory of what is being stored (fresh or frozen).  While storing an item, swipe its bar code so that the system knows when you first stored it and hence how old it is later.  Enter its expiration date and location in the refrigerator.  Coming back to recipes, how about a list of recipes that can be made from ingredients in the refrigerator?  Nice!  Even nicer would be to access this inventory via cell phone when at the market.  “Do I have any fresh cilantro at home?”  My current refrigerator simply beeps at me with the door is left open, but why not send my cell phone a message?  Of course, access to the Internet allows access to video based cooking instructions to be downloaded and played.  Want to see that technique to whip up a great soufflé?

Smart stoves and ovens have a different play when hooked up to the Internet.  My favorite would be to warm up my oven as I’m heading home from the market.  Integrated temperature probes are popular with microwaves, but should be integrated into ovens as well.  Sensors that turn off that stove when the pot has boiled away all liquid would be a nice safety feature.  OK, all these features are nice, but what is the cost of the energy?  Again, some design work is needed to minimize energy consumption and still to maintain fast power ups.

Refrigerators have another option that was discussed briefly in an earlier post.  When it is cheaper to use electricity at night, a refrigerator can wait until night time to make the system extra cold so that it can more easily ride out usage during the day.  Note that if the building has solar power to augment the utility provided electricity, the solar power is “free” during the day and expensive at night.  Thus, it makes sense to keep the system extra cold during the day and to almost power off at night.

My current microwave’s defrost features are terrible.  Look, I want to defrost a steak quickly without partially cooking it.  I also don’t want to wait an hour defrosting a big chicken.  The smarts to do this are SMOP (“simply a matter of programming”).  My microwave gives me a ridiculous choice for defrosting options.  How about getting the right option off the Internet by scanning its bar code?  Also, a microwave should probably be hooked up to a digital scale to weigh things, but putting the scale into the microwave itself has its charm.  A lot of these features can be implemented without using too much excess energy.  In fact, considerable energy can be saved, simply by not overcooking things!

Now, who is going to invent the “green” robot that does all my cooking for me?

Of course the moral here is that smart appliances are coming, and I hope that industry will embrace saving energy.



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