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GE, Tendril Partner to Hook Up Smart Appliances to the Grid

GEvideofridgeGeneral Electric (s GE) has said it could start selling some of its smart appliances — dishwashers, water heaters, microwaves and other devices embedded with communications technology — as early as this summer. But how will those appliances securely and efficiently connect with the grid so that utilities can turn them down during peak electricity hours? One answer will come from Tendril, the 5-year-old Boulder, Colo.-based startup that has developed energy management software and hardware for utilities and consumers. Tendril and GE say this morning that they will co-develop software that will hook GE’s smart appliances up to the grid and the utility back office based on Tendril’s energy management platform.

It’s a big win for Tendril, which announced it raised a third round of funding of $30 million just last month. GE will be Tendril’s first appliance partner, though Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck tells us that the company plans to announce other appliance partners in the future. For GE, the Tendril partnership will bring the startup’s experience of working with — and building software for — utilities and delivering the features that utilities are particularly concerned about: security and privacy of data, cost of the system, and ease of use. Utilities that buy GE and Tendril’s offer will be using Tendril’s energy management system on the back-end.

On the consumer-facing side, GE and the utility won’t necessarily be using Tendril’s energy dashboard hardware, as GE has its own energy management dashboard. GE has said it plans to start selling the smart energy dashboard in late 2009 or early 2010 and plans to supply 500 smart dashboards for a test project for Florida utility FPL.

Tendril also makes smart plugs, which sit between the appliance plug and the outlet, and can monitor and remotely turn appliances off and on. It’ll be interesting to see if consumers and utilities will opt more for adding smart plugs to the appliances for smart grid services or will end up turning more to appliances with the embedded connection. (For more on consumer preferences for the smart home read GigaOM Pro’s report, subscription required). Tendril’s Tuck says that he envisions smart plugs as an interim solution and far down the road most appliances will likely get an embedded connection. “You can do so much more with an embedded product,” says Tuck, explaining that the service for the customer can be more subtle and transparent with an embedded appliance.

Tuck expects that the GE appliances with the Tendril system will start pilot testing as soon as the fourth quarter of this year, and a potential first utility partner could be Texas utility Reliant Energy.

Image of the smart fridge courtesy of GE.

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