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IBM, US DOE test "smart" thermostats, dryers

Evan Blass

Two trials being conducted jointly by IBM and the Department of Energy in Oregon and Washington state could one day lead to widespread adoption of technologies that ease strains on both the power grid and consumers' wallets. The first of these trials involves using IBM's WebSphere Application Servers to monitor both real-time energy prices and in-home energy usage, and alerting consumers by email when their usage exceeds predetermined thresholds. This trial's 300 participants can even choose to let the system regulate their thermostats and adjust temperatures if energy bills are getting too high (i.e. use your jacuzzi too much in the winter and you're in for some pretty frigid temps at home--although manual overrides make this scenario unlikely). The second trial involves a prototype dryer by Whirlpool that can sense stresses on the power grid and briefly turn off its heating element while continuing to tumble dry its load, in a manner that wouldn't be noticed by the end-user. IBM claims that widespread adoption of these technologies could save consumers up to $80 billion over 20 years (we assume that's an aggregate figure, and does not refer to a multi-billion dollar savings per household).

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