22 6 comments
The household of the future – a European perspective
50% of private household energy demand is consumed by appliances such as dishwashers, fridges, washing machines, and dryers. I met with my colleague Claudia Häpp, Project Leader Smart Grid / Home Connect from BSH Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte GmbH, the world’s 3rd largest company in the home appliances sector, to learn more about the European roadmap and market for smart appliances.
Claudia, how would you describe the household of the future?
The household of the future is going to be integrated into our digitized and networked world. I’m expecting users to enjoy a maximum of flexibility, since they will be able to use smart user interfaces to get information and control home systems regardless of time or location. For appliance manufacturers, the term “household of the future” implies a need to develop solutions and services that simplify people’s ever more complicated day-to-day lives and significantly increase transparency in how home appliances are utilized.
Which factors drive research and development for smart appliances?
Smart appliances are a major step in getting people to be aware of, and to accept the importance of, managing household energy consumption. I am convinced that intelligent home appliances are now more than ever an expression of a lifestyle that seeks to be responsible, modern, and sustainable. That’s exactly why the combination of performance, ease of use, energy efficiency, and network / smart grid capability is such a major driver for our sector. Households that already make use of their electricity supplier’s variable tariffs can achieve significant savings through the smart grid: users involved in the MeRegio pilot project report that their energy costs are some 25% lower. One way to make the most of today’s variable electricity tariffs using smart appliances is to give washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers preset starting times, so they turn themselves on when electricity is cheaper.
Which technology makes appliances smart?
For me the most important thing is not to come up with technologies that serve no real purpose. There’s much more to it than just controlling your oven or whatever via your smartphone, tablet PC, or notebook, or having refrigerators that scan barcodes and automatically order fresh food. Technical visions of that sort have been around in Asia for over ten years. But not even in that region’s technology-loving markets has the idea of the smart home really managed to get off the ground yet. As I said, connectivity is pointless if it’s only there for the sake of it. In my opinion, what we should be trying to do with it is drive home-appliance efficiency even higher through smart control concepts, while ensuring broader acceptance by tangibly improving the user experience.
Considering the German market, is the lack of a smart grid slowing down the smart appliances market? What is BSH’s strategy to cope with the current situation and still be prepared for the future?
A number of things have to happen before smart grids can become an integral part of the energy system of the future and support the move to new forms of energy. Households must be equipped with the technical infrastructure to allow users to control their appliances in an integrated way. Energy suppliers have to come up with new business models. And the sector needs to agree on common standards in areas such as data transmission, so that users can make the most of their smart appliances’ features.
One major factor in the success of smart grids is the mindset of users. They need to be looking more closely into different tariffs, carefully considering alternative sources of energy, and making active use of the new transparency of information. In this arena, too, much remains to be done – as the example of smart meters shows. A lack both of standards and of clarity in legal requirements means these meters are being introduced only slowly into the market. What’s more, it’s users that are having to pick up the associated additional costs – but since they can see little additional value in expensive smart meters, demand for the technology is weak. That in turn is slowing down its development on the part of metering operators and energy suppliers, creating a vicious circle that will have to be overcome before smart meters can truly take off.
Even though home appliances are at the end of this chain, many appliance manufacturers are already putting in a lot of effort to adapt their product portfolio to support smart grids, and they are actively shaping the development of the necessary infrastructure. That said, I don’t believe the smart grid is about to eclipse the importance of energy efficiency in home appliances.
Claudia, if you had to take a guess, what would you say the smartest appliance of the future will be?
A recent survey carried out on behalf of the Bitkom high-tech association shows that one in three Germans now owns a smartphone. So how about a smartphone that sorts my dirty laundry for me?
Claudia, thank you for the interview!