General Electric’s Consumer & Industrial division finalized a deal with home energy management startup Tendril today to improve broadband communication between demand response appliances in the home, smart meters and utilities. Ideally, the result of this tandem project will be a wide range of appliances that respond automatically to utility signals — programmable thermostats that shut off by themselves during peak hours, for example, or dishwashers that run only when electricity is cheapest.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to cut costs for energy consumers, the companies say. By redistributing energy to those who need it most, and reducing energy consumption in homes when it is at its most expensive, the system could substantially lower monthly electricity bills. At the same time, demand response is increasingly being used by utilities to rebalance power, stabilize the grid and prevent outages — saving maintenance costs.
The deal is a big win for Tendril, a company with promising enough technology, but definitely in need of powerful partners to integrate it into major utility and appliance networks. Few consumers are going to seek out a Tendril’s technology on their own — major success will come from relationships with big consumer brands, just like GE.
With more utilities switching over to tiered pricing — in which electricity costs different amounts at different types of day — more homeowners will have incentive to monitor their energy consumption throughout the day. The system developed by Tendril and GE will encompass all major home appliances, including refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, microwaves, water heaters, and maybe eventually electric vehicle charging stations.
This project is just one of several ways GE is getting more deeply involved in smart grid development and innovation. In addition to playing a major role in consortia negotiating standards for the smart grid, it just announced that it is building a research and development center dedicated to the smart grid in Michigan for $100 million.
Early this month, Tendril reported a $30 million third round of capital led by VantagePoint Ventures.