The Future is Smart

24/04/2012 07:29 BST | Updated 23/06/2012 10:12 BST

Last week I visited the Global Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a.k.a. Milan Design Week 2012; it's the largest interior design show in the world and where all the leading brands come together to exhibit. Manufacturers and designers choose this event to launch new products and innovative technological design for the home.

One such manufacturer Miele, the premium domestic appliances brand, was showcasing its Smart Grid ready products. The majority of household consumption is dominated by domestic appliances: washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers. Manufacturers have responded with A+++ rated appliances, but the real future of electricity consumption lies with the Smart Grid (SG). By 2020, Miele estimates that 80% of households will be fitted with a smart electricity meter that allows two-way communication between the utility provider and the individual home. What does this mean for householders? Smart grid enabled domestic appliances that can be scheduled to run when energy costs are cheaper.

Energy efficiency and carbon emissions are no longer only a concern for the environmental fringe; as utility bills increase and the UK Government introduces the new 'Green Deal' to empower householders to upgrade the efficiency of their homes, it is time for consumers to re- think how they use energy. These Smart Grid appliances also have implications for homes fitted with Solar Photovoltaic panels. The main limitation of Solar PV systems is that they generate energy during the day, but the energy cannot be stored; so panels are producing power when people are at work. Of course any unused energy is sold back the grid, but surely the whole point of producing your own energy is to be self-sufficient rather than relying on buying it from a large energy company.

SMA, a leading German solar technology company, has designed an energy management system to overcome this problem. The Sunny Home Manager acts as a transmitter from the PV panel to SG ready appliances. So appliances will start automatically when the PV panels are generating enough energy to run them. Miele has developed a complementary gateway which manages the demand side of things, the gateway tells the transmitter which Miele machines are in SG Ready mode, which programmes are selected and the energy forecast for the relevant cycles.

How does this work in practice? Let's say a washing machine and dishwasher are both set to complete their cycle by 19.00 h at the latest. According to the weather forecast, the sun is expected to shine from lunch onwards, allowing the dishwasher to be switched on at 13.00 h followed by the washing machine two hours later. This particular example takes into account that the house's solar array is not able to provide enough power to run both machines simultaneously.

The solar PV industry sees the potential of this new technology, "Our customers would prefer to use their own clean energy rather than sell it to the grid. The Miele gateway is a great solution and will be the first of many domestic appliance companies to develop new ways for customers to have more control over their energy use" says Tyrone Cowland, Managing Director of Renewable Energy Control

So being 'Smart' is definitely the way forward: now your smart phone can be connected to your smart appliances through an app, giving you even greater control. No doubt other manufacturers will quickly follow suit, we'll see what new launches are in store at Milan Design Week 2013.