Kind Code:

A system and method for communicating between a master and slave devices for managing home utility costs is provided. The system includes a measuring device for determining gas or water flow in the home, a memory that stores data relating to past usage, and that also receive data from the measuring device. A controller operatively communicates with the measuring device, memory, and at least one home appliance to provide a message to a homeowner, or transmit information to a utility, or display a proposed operational mode. The controller may include a lock-out feature to prevent a homeowner from overriding a proposed mode or operation, or the controller can shut-off gas or water flow based on a measured flow rate.

Besore, John K. (Prospect, KY, US)
Beyerle, Michael Thomas (Pewee Valley, KY, US)
Finch, Michael F. (Louisville, KY, US)
Venkatakrishnan, Natarajan (Louisville, KY, US)
Watson, Eric K. (Crestwood, KY, US)
Application Number:
Publication Date:
Filing Date:
General Electric Company
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
International Classes:
G05D7/06; G06F17/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20020019678Pseudo-emotion sound expression systemFebruary, 2002Mizokawa
20060069452Configuration of modules in automation systemsMarch, 2006Pfister et al.
20070083293Input dispenser and recorderApril, 2007Applegate et al.
20040176877Building automation system and methodSeptember, 2004Hesse et al.
20090019866CONTROLLING METHOD OF ICE MAKERJanuary, 2009Lee et al.
20030014141Method and system for immediately issuing production planJanuary, 2003Lu
20050043829Betting method and system for comparing products and servicesFebruary, 2005Rossides
20050071135Knowledge management system for computer-aided design modelingMarch, 2005Vredenburgh et al.

Primary Examiner:
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
General Electric Company (GE Global Patent Operation 901 Main Avenue 3rd Floor, Norwalk, CT, 06851, US)
1. A method of communicating between a master and slave device for managing home utility costs comprising: monitoring use of gas or water in a home; forwarding usage data to a controller operatively communicating with an associated home appliance; and controlling operation of the associated home appliance based on the usage rate data.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the controlling step includes providing a home energy manager having a user interface for displaying data relating to the associated home appliance and receiving input commands from a consumer.

3. The method of claim 2 further comprising transmitting data from the associated home appliance to the home energy manager.

4. The method of claim 3 further comprising transmitting data from the associated home energy manager to the associated utility.

5. The method of claim 4 further comprising sending a message from the home energy manager to a remote device.

6. The method of claim 3 further comprising displaying a message on the home energy manager in response to the transmitted data.

7. The method of claim 1 further comprising transmitting data from the associated home appliance to the controller.

8. The method of claim 1 further comprising prompting a user whether to accept or override a suggested mode of operation.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein the monitoring step includes measuring the flow rate of one of gas or water entering the home.

10. A home service provider system comprising: a measuring device for determining gas or water flow in the home; a memory that stores data relating to past usage of gas or water in the home, and data received from the measuring device; and a controller in operative communication with the measuring device, memory, and at least one associated home appliance.

11. The system of claim 10 wherein the controller includes a user interface that provides a message to a homeowner prompting an operational mode for the associated home appliance in response to data received from the monitor.

12. The system of claim 10 wherein the controller receives data from the associated home appliance.

13. The system of claim 12 wherein the controller includes a port for transmitting the data from the associated home appliance to a utility.

14. The system of claim 12 further comprising a monitor for displaying a proposed operation based on the data received from the associated home appliance.

15. The system of claim 12 wherein the controller includes a port for transmitting a message to a remote location based on data received from the associated home appliance.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein the port includes forwarding data on one of WIFI, WIMAX, Broadband, or mobile phone.

17. The system of claim 10 wherein the controller includes a “lockout feature” that prevents a homeowner from overriding a proposed mode of operation for the associated home appliance based on a prior agreement with the homeowner.

18. The system of claim 10 wherein the controller includes an input that permits the homeowner to select a mode of operation for an associated home appliance.

19. The system of claim 10 wherein the controller can shut off gas or water flow based on the measured flow rate and data received from the associated home appliance.

20. The system of claim 19 wherein the controller acts in response to flow rate over a preselected period of time.

21. The system of claim 19 wherein at least one home appliance includes a flow meter.

22. The system of claim 21 wherein the flow meter throttles flow to the home appliance.

23. The system of claim 21 wherein the controller through the flow meter throttles, delays, curtails, duty cycles, or shuts off flow to the home appliance.


The present application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/097,082 filed 15 Sep. 2008, now Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (Attorney Docket No. 231,308 (GECZ 2 00948)); which provisional patent application is expressly incorporated herein by reference, in its entirety. In addition, cross-reference is made to commonly owned, copending applications Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (Attorney Docket No. 233326 (GECZ 00989)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (234503 (GECZ 2 00991)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (234622 (GECZ 2 00992)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (234930 (GECZ 2 00993)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (235215 (GECZ 2 00995)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (238022 (GECZ 2 00996)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (238338 (GECZ 2 00997)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (238404 (GECZ 2 00998)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (237845 (GECZ 2 00999)); Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (237898 (GECZ 2 01000)); and Ser. No. ______, filed 15 Sep. 2009 (237900 (GECZ 2 01001)).


This disclosure relates to energy management, and more particularly to energy management of household consumer appliances. The disclosure finds particular application to changing existing appliances via add-on features or modules, and incorporating new energy saving features and functions into new appliances.

Currently utilities charge a flat rate, but with increasing cost of fuel prices and high energy usage at certain parts of the day, utilities have to buy more energy to supply customers during peak demand. Consequently, utilities are charging higher rates during peak demand. If peak demand can be lowered, then a potential huge cost savings can be achieved and the peak load that the utility has to accommodate is lessened.

One proposed third party solution is to provide a system where a controller “switches” the actual energy supply to the appliance or control unit on and off However, there is no active control beyond the mere on/off switching. It is believed that others in the industry cease some operations in a refrigerator during on-peak time.

For example, in a refrigerator most energy is consumed to keep average freezer compartment temperature at a constant level. Recommended temperature level is based on bacteria multiplication. Normally recommended freezer temperature for long (1-2 month) food storage is 0 degrees F. Research shows that bacteria rise is a linear function of the compartment temperature, i.e., the lower the temperature the lower the bacteria multiplication. Refrigerator designers now use this knowledge to prechill a freezer compartment (and in less degree a refrigerator compartment also) before defrost, thus keeping an average temperature during time interval that includes before, during, and after defrost at approximately the same level (for example, 0 degrees F.).

There are also currently different methods used to determine when variable electricity-pricing schemes go into effect. There are phone lines, schedules, and wireless signals sent by the electrical company. One difficulty is that no peak shaving method for an appliance such as a refrigerator will provide a maximal benefit. Further, different electrical companies use different methods of communicating periods of high electrical demand to their consumers. Other electrical companies simply have rate schedules for different times of day.

Electrical utilities moving to an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system will need to communicate to appliances, HVAC, water heaters, etc. in a home or office building. All electrical utility companies (more than 3,000 in the US) will not be using the same communication method to signal in the AMI system. Similarly, known systems do not communicate directly with the appliance using a variety of communication methods and protocols, nor is a modular and standard method created for communication devices to interface and to communicate operational modes to the main controller of the appliance. Although conventional WiFi/ZigBee/PLC communication solutions are becoming commonplace, this disclosure introduces numerous additional lower cost, reliable solutions to trigger “load shedding” responses in appliances or other users of power. This system may also utilize the commonplace solutions as parts of the communication protocols.


The present disclosure reduces power consumption during on-peak hours by reducing the energy demand on the power generation facility, and also enabling the user/consumer to pay less to operate the appliance on an annual basis.

This disclosure is a low-cost alternative to using expensive or complicated methods of determining when peak electrical rates apply. For example, when the refrigerator is in peak shaving mode (or it could be programmed to do this constantly), an ambient light sensor determines when it is morning, and then stays in energy-saving mode for a predetermined number of hours. Preferably, the system will need a counter to know that the room has been dark for a predetermined number of hours. When the lights come on for a certain length of time, then the system knows, for example, that it is morning.

This disclosure provides a peak-shaving appliance such as a refrigerator, including a method to determine when to go into peak-shaving mode without using additional components, or components that have another purpose, and provides a high percentage of the maximum benefit for negligible cost. The two components needed for this are an ambient light sensor and a timer. The kitchen will be dark for an extended period of time while everyone is sleeping. The light sensor and the timer will be used to determine that it is nighttime and morning can be determined by the light sensor. When the refrigerator determines it is morning, the timer will be used to initiate peak shaving mode after some delay time. For example, peak shaving mode could start three hours after it is determined morning starts. Similarly, the ambient light sensor can also be used for dimming the refrigerator lights. This disclosure advantageously uses ambient light to determine when to start peak shaving.

An appliance interface can be provided for all appliances leaving the module to communicate with the AMI system. The system provides for appliance sales with a Demand Side Management capable appliance. The Demand Side Management Module (DSMM) is provided to control the energy consumption and control functions of an appliance using a communication method (including but not limited to PLC, FM, AM SSB, WiFi, ZigBee, Radio Broadcast Data System, 802.11, 802.15.4, etc.). The modular approach will enable an appliance to match electrical utility communication requirements. Each electrical utility region may have different communication methods, protocol methods, etc. This modular approach allows an appliance to be adapted to a particular geographical area of a consumer or a particular electrical provider. The module can be added as a follow on feature and applied after the appliance is installed. Typical installations could include an integral mounted module (inside the appliance or unit) or an externally mounted module (at the wall electrical receptacle or anywhere outside the appliance or unit). The module in this disclosure provides for 2 way communications if needed, and will provide for several states of operation—for example, 1) normal operation, 2) operation in low energy mode (but not off), and 3) operation in lowest energy mode.

This module could be powered from the appliance or via a separate power supply, or with rechargeable batteries. The rechargeable batteries could be set to charge under off-peak conditions. With the module powered from the appliance, the appliance could turn it off until the appliance needed to make a decision about power usage, eliminating the standby power draw of the module. If powered separately, the appliance could go to a low energy state or completely off, while the module continued to monitor rates.

Use of RFID tags in one proposed system should offer significant savings since the RFID tags have become very low cost due to the proliferation of these devices in retail and will effectively allow the enabled appliance to effectively communicate with the utility meter (e.g., receive signals from the utility meter). This system makes it very easy for a customer to manage energy usage during peak demand periods and lowers the inconvenience level to the customer by not shutting off appliances in the home by the utility. When local storage and local generation are integrated into the system, then cost savings are seen by the customer. This system also solves the issue of rolling brownouts/blackouts caused by excessive power demand by lowering the overall demand. Also, the system allows the customer to pre-program choices into the system that will ultimately lower utility demand as well as save the customer money in the customer's utility billing. For instance, the customer may choose to disable the defrost cycle of a refrigerator during peak rate timeframes. This disclosure provides for the controller to “communicate” with the internal appliance control board and command the appliance to execute specific actions with no curtailment in the energy supply. This disclosure further provides a method of communicating data between a master device and one or more slave devices using RFID technology. This can be a number of states or signals, either using one or more passive RFID tags that resonate at different frequencies resonated by the master, or one or more active RFID tags that can store data that can be manipulated by the master device and read by the slave device(s). The states in either the passive or active RFID tags can then be read by the microcontroller on the slave device(s) and appropriate functions/actions can be taken based upon these signals.

Another exemplary embodiment uses continuous coded tones riding on carrier frequencies to transmit intelligence, for example, when one is merely passing rate information such as rate 1, 2, 3, or 4, using the tones to transmit the signals. One could further enhance the details of the messaging by assigning a binary number to a given tone, thus allowing one to “spell out” a message using binary coding with multiple tones. The appliance microcomputer would be programmed to respond to a given number that would arrive in binary format.

Another exemplary method of communicating between a master and slave device for managing home utility costs includes monitoring use of gas or water into a home, forwarding usage data to a controller that communicates with an associated home appliance, and controlling operation of the home appliance based on the usage rate data.

The controlling step may include providing a home energy manager having a user interface for displaying data relating to the associated home appliance and receiving input commands from a homeowner.

Two-way communication between the home appliance and the home energy manager may be provided and, likewise, two-way communication provided between the home energy manager and the associated utility.

In one exemplary embodiment, a message is displayed on the home energy manager, or a message sent to a remote device.

A system includes a measuring device for determining gas or water flow in the home, a memory that stores data relating to past usage of gas or water in the home, and that also stores data received from the measuring device, and a controller that operatively communicates with the measuring device, memory, and an associated home appliance.

A user interface provides a message to a homeowner prompting an operational mode for the home appliance and/or the controller may transmit data from the home appliance to a utility.

The controller may include a lock-out feature to prevent the homeowner from overriding a proposed mode of operation, or the controller may include shut-off capabilities for the gas and water flow based on the measured flow rate and data received from the home appliance.

One advantage of this approach is that customers have complete control of their power. There have been proposals by utilities to shut off customers if they exceed demand limits or increase the number of rolling brownouts. This method also gives a customer finer granulity in their home in terms of control. A customer does not have to load shed a room just to manage a single device.

This disclosure also advantageously provides modes of load shedding in the appliance, lighting, or HVAC other than “on/off” to make the situation more acceptable from the perspective of the customer.

An advantage of the present disclosure is the ability to produce appliances with a common interface and let the module deal with the Demand Side Management.

Another advantage is the ability to control functions and features within the appliance and/or unit at various energy levels, i.e., as opposed to just an on/off function.

Another advantage is that the consumer can choose the module or choose not to have the module. If the module is chosen, it can be matched to the particular electrical utility service provider communication method of the consumer.

Another benefit is the increased flexibility with an associated electrical service provider, and the provision of several modes of operation (not simply an on/off mode). The module can be placed or positioned inside or outside the appliance and/or unit o provide demand side management.

Still other benefits relate to modularity, the ability to handle multiple communication methods and protocols without adversely impacting the cost of the appliance, opening up appliances to a variety of protocols, enabling demand side management or energy management, and/or providing for a standard interface to the appliance (for example, offering prechill and/or temperature set change during on-peak hours).

Low cost, reliable RF transmissions within the home, rather than using industrial solutions such as PLC or Zigbee solutions which are significantly more costly than the aforementioned system, are yet another benefit.

This disclosure advantageously expands technology to incorporate utilities in addition to the electrical utilities, e.g., gas and water.

Another advantage relates to remote diagnostics and remote subscription features that permit a utility to determine what action a homeowner has taken and, in select circumstances, disable the ability of a homeowner to override a suggested operational mode.

Still other features and benefits of the present disclosure will become apparent from reading and understanding the following detailed description.


FIGS. 1-21 illustrate various systems and methods of exemplary embodiments described herein.

FIG. 22 is schematic representation of a home energy manager for controlling home appliance operation based on non-electric utility data.

FIG. 23 schematically represents two-way communication between the home appliance and home energy manager.

FIG. 24 schematically represents communication among the home energy manager, home appliance, and a remote device.

FIGS. 25-28 schematically illustrate control of gas operated appliances.


In one embodiment, a more advanced system is provided to handle energy management between the utility and the homeowner's appliances. The system can include one or more of the following: a controller, utility meter, communication network, intelligent appliances, local storage, local generator and/or demand server. Less advanced systems may actually allow the appliance to “communicate directly with the utility meter or mesh network through the DSSM (Demand Side Management Module) (FIG. 1). The demand server is a computer system that notifies the controller when the utility is in peak demand and what is the utility's current demand limit. A utility meter can also provide the controller the occurrence of peak demand and demand limit. The demand limit can also be set by the home owner. Additionally, the homeowner can choose to force various modes in the appliance control based on the rate the utility is charging at different times of the day. The controller will look at the energy consumption currently used by the home via the utility meter and see if the home is exceeding the demand limit read from the server. If the demand limit is exceeded, the controller will notify the intelligent appliances, lighting and thermostat/HVAC (FIG. 2).

Each intelligent appliance has a communication interface that links itself to the controller (FIG. 3). This interface can be power-line carrier, wireless, and/or wired. The controller will interact with the appliance and lighting controls as well as thermostat (for HVAC) to execute the users preferences/settings.

Enabled appliances receive signals from the utility meter and help lower the peak load on the utility and lower the amount of energy that the consumer uses during high energy cost periods of the day. There are several ways to accomplish this, through wireless communication (ZigBee, WiFi, etc) or through PLC (power line carrier) communication. Alternatively, using passive RFID tags that resonate at different frequencies resonated by the master, or one or more active RFID tags that can store data that can be manipulated by the master device and read by the slave devices(s) is an effective and potentially lower cost communication solution since there is no protocol. Rather, a pulse of energy at a particular frequency will allow a low cost method with an open protocol for transmitting/communicating between a master device and one or more slave devices, and appropriate functions/actions can be taken based upon these signals.

The interaction between controller and appliances can occur in two ways. For example, in one scenario during a peak demand period, the controller will receive a demand limit from the utility, demand server or user. The controller will then allocate the home's demand based on two factors: priority of the appliance and energy need level (FIG. 4). The priority dictates which appliances have higher priority to be in full or partial energy mode than other appliances. Energy need dictates how much energy is required for a certain time period in order for that appliance to function properly. If the appliance's energy need is too low to function properly, the appliance moves to a normal mode or a higher energy need level. The energy saving mode is typically a lower energy usage mode for the appliance such as shutdowns of compressors and motors, delayed cycles, higher operating temperatures in summer or lower operating temperatures in winter until the peak demand period is over. Once the demand limit is reached, the appliances will stay in their energy mode until peak demand is over, or a user overrides, or appliance finishes need cycle or priority changes. The controller constantly receives status updates from the appliances in order to determine which state they are in and in order to determine if priorities need to change to accomplish the system goals.

In a second scenario, for example, a set point is provided. During a peak demand period, the controller will tell each appliance to go into peak demand mode (FIG. 5). The appliance will then go into a lower energy mode. The customer can deactivate the energy savings mode by selecting a feature on the appliance front end controls (i.e. user interface board) before or during the appliance use or at the controller. The controller can also communicate to a local storage or power generation unit. This local unit is connected to the incoming power supply from the utility. The controller notifies the storage unit to charge when it is not in peak demand, if a storage unit is included and available. If the storage unit has enough energy to supply the appliances during peak demand, then the controller will switch the home's energy consumption from the utility to the storage unit. The unit can also be local generator/storage such as solar, hydrogen fuel cell, etc.

The central controller handles energy management between the utility and home appliances, lighting, thermostat/HVAC, etc. with customer choices incorporated in the decision making process. The controller may include notification of an energy saving mode based on demand limit read from one or more of a utility meter, utility, demand server or user. An energy savings mode of an appliance can thereby be controlled or regulated based on priority and energy need level sent from the controller and/or the customer (FIG. 6). Likewise, consideration to use of local energy storage and use of a local generator to offset peak demand limit can be incorporated into the energy management considerations, or provide the ability to override mode of energy savings through the controller or at the appliance, lighting, or thermostat/HVAC (FIGS. 7 and 8).

The present disclosure has the ability for the home to shed loads in pending brown-out or black-out situations, yet have intelligence to prevent an improper action such as shutting down the refrigerator for extended timeframes that might compromise food storage safety.

How much energy the appliance consumes in peak demand is based on priority of the device and the energy need level. If the appliance's priority is high, then the appliance will most likely not go into a saving mode. The energy need level is based on how little energy the appliance can consume during peak demand and still provide the function setting it is in (i.e. in a refrigerator, ensuring that the temperature is cool enough to prevent spoiling). It will also be appreciated that an appliance may have multiple energy need levels.

The controller will be the main product with the communication and settings control incorporated within future appliances. Specific meters will be selected so that the controller can read the demand usage. It is intended that the demand server will possibly be purchased or leased to the utility.

A method is provided for constructing an appliance designed to perform any key function, the appliance comprises of several mechanical and electrical elements controlled by a main controller. This main controller has a port for receiving information regarding the operational state of the appliance. The port also has a user interface or switch which could be used to override the information received by the controller through the port. Two-way or one-way communication devices may be connected to the port. These communication devices will receive signals from a remote controller, process those signals and as a result communicate an operational state to the main controller of the appliance. This operational state is communicated to the main controller by one or more remote controllers in a specific format determined by the appliance. These signals from the remote controller(s) could be based on a variety of communication methods and associated protocols. On receiving the operational state signal, the appliance main controller causes the appliance to run a predetermined operational mode. These operational modes are designed into the appliance(s) and result in different resource consumption levels or patterns, even delaying use. Resources could include energy, water, air, heat, sunlight, time, etc. In future appliance models, the consumer might be given the authority to modify the appliance responses to a given rate signal. The consumer would be presented a “check box” of potential response modes and allowed to choose within set parameters. For instance, the consumer might be allowed to choose the amount of temperature adjustment a refrigerator will make in response to a high utility rate.

A method of communicating data between a master device and one or more slave devices may advantageously use continuous tone-coded transmission system. This can be a number of states or signals, either using one or more continuous tones that signify different rate states coming from the home area network (from meter) or the utility. Additionally, one could send a combination of tones to transmit binary messages using a few tones. The slave devices will incorporate a receiver that receives the carrier frequency and then decodes the continuous tone which corresponds to the particular state of the utility rate. Once the “receiver board” detects the tone, then the downstream circuitry will trigger the appropriate response in the appliance. The carrier frequency in this scheme can be numerous spectrums, one being the FM broadcast band or a specific FM band allocated by the FCC for low level power output. The advantage of broadcast band FM is the low cost of such devices and the potential to penetrate walls, etc. within a home with very low levels of power due to the long wavelength of the 89-106 Mhz carrier. This process is used today in 2-way radio communications to reduce the annoyance of listening to multiple users on shared 2-way radio frequencies. The process in these radios is referred to as CTCSS (continuous tone-coded squelch system) and would find application in this end use.

Generally, it is not known to have modular interfaces that can receive signals from a control source. Also, no prior arrangements have functioned by addressing the control board of the appliance with a signal that directs the appliance to respond.

Thus, by way of example only, the structure and/or operation of a refrigerator (FIG. 9, although other appliances are also represented) may be modified or altered by reducing the temperature, especially in the freezer compartment pre on-peak time and further temporarily provide a compartment temperature increase to shave on-peak load. Specifically, defrost operation could be delayed until off-peak time. Alternatively or conjunctively, the freezer and refrigerator temperature setpoints may be set to maintain less compressor on time during on-peak demand times. Similarly, the refrigerator/freezer could be programmed so that lights will not be permitted to come on or the lights must be dimmed lights during on-peak demand times. During on-peak demand times, the fan operating speeds can be reduced, and/or compressor operating speed reduced in order to reduce energy consumption. Still another option is to reduce the delay time for the door alarm to sound during on-peak time. Other power load reducing measures in a refrigerator may include (reducing before on-peak hours) the temperature of the freezer and refrigerator compartments in a refrigerator (prechill) and slightly increase temperature setting during on-peak rates. For example, just before peak rate time, the temperature setting could be decreased by 1-2 degrees (during off-peak rates). Some communication line with the electrical company could be established. Thus, the electrical company may be able to send a signal in advance to prechill the refrigerator (or in the case of an air conditioner, decrease the room temperature during off-peak rates as a pre-chill maneuver) and, in turn, increase the temperature setting during on-peak rates.

Still other energy consuming practices of the exemplary refrigerator that may be altered include turning the ice-maker off during on-peak demand times, or disabling the crushed ice mode during on-peak demand times. Alternatively, the consumer may be given the ability to select via a user interface which items are incorporated into the on-peak demand via an enable/disable menu, or to provide input selection such as entry of a zip code (FIG. 10) in order to select the utility company and time of use schedule (FIG. 11), or using a time versus day of the week schedule input method (FIGS. 12-13).

The user interface may also incorporate suggested energy saving tips or show energy usage, or provide an indicator during on-peak mode, or provide a counter to illustrate the energy impact of door opening, or showing an energy calculator to the consumer to serve as a reminder of the impact of certain selections/actions on energy use or energy conservation (FIGS. 14-19).

One path that is being pursued from the appliance perspective is to allow the onboard CPU (microprocessor) of the appliance to determine how to respond to an incoming signal asking for a load shedding response. For example, the CPU will turn on, turn off, throttle, delay, adjust, or modify specific functions and features in the appliance to provide a turndown in power consumption (FIG. 20). FIG. 21 defines specifically exemplary modes of what are possible. The main feature here is the enabling of the main board microprocessor or CPU to execute actions in the appliance to deliver load shedding (lowering power consumption at that instant). The actions available in each appliance are only limited to the devices that the CPU has control over, which are nearly all of the electrical consuming devices in an appliance. This may work better where the appliance has an electronic control versus an electromechanical control.

Of course, the above description focuses on the refrigerator but these concepts are equally applicable to other home appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters, washing machines, clothes dryers, televisions (activate a recording feature rather than turning on the television), etc., and the list is simply representative and not intended to be all encompassing.

Likewise, although these concepts have been described with respect to appliances, they may find application in areas other than appliances and other than electricity usage. For example, a controller that acts as an intermediary between the utilities meter and the appliance interprets the utility signal, processes it and then submits this signal to the appliance for the prescribed reaction. In a similar fashion, the controller may find application to other household utilities, for example, natural gas and water within the home. One can equip the water and gas meters to measure flow rates and then drive responses to a gas water heater or gas furnace precisely like the electrical case. This would assume that one might experience variable gas and water rates in the future. Secondly, the flow meters being connected to the controller could provide a consumer with a warning as to broken or leaking water lines by comparing the flow rate when a given appliance or appliances are on to the normal consumption. In cases where safety is a concern, the system could stop the flow of gas or water based on the data analysis.

Another feature might be the incorporation of “remote subscription” for the utility benefit. In some cases, the utility will be providing customers discounts/rebates for subscribing to DSM in their appliances, hot water heaters, etc. The “remote subscription” feature would allow the utility to send a signal that would “lockout” the consumer from disabling the feature since they were on the “rebate” program.

Another feature that the controller lends itself to is the inclusion of “Remote diagnostics”. This feature would allow the appliance to send a signal or message to the controller indicating that something in the appliance was not up to specifications. The controller could then relay this signal to the utility or to the appliance manufacturer via the various communication avenues included into the controller (i.e., WIFI, WIMAX, Broadband,cell phone, or any other formats that the controller could “speak”).

In the case of a remote subscription, the utilities today rely on the honesty of their subscribers to leave the DSM system functional. Some people may receive the discounts/rebate and then disable the feature that drives the load shedding. With this system, the utility can ensure that the feature will be enabled and provide the proper load shedding.

As briefly noted above, the system and method of communicating between master and slave devices for managing home utility costs can also be expanded to utilities other than electricity, e.g., namely gas and water are two primary examples. It is necessary, therefore, to measure flow rates of either water or gas in the home and provide appropriate responses to one or more appliances, or perhaps to the water or gas supply, for example, if shut-off is required. Flow meters may be associated with the water and gas lines, and the flow meters provide data to the controller that preferably stores usage data associated with a particular associated home appliance. As shown in FIG. 22, meter 100 is mounted to the home. A controller 102, also referred to as a “home energy manager” (HEM), is interposed between the meter and an associated home appliance 104. For example, the home appliance may be a natural gas furnace or a gas water heater. A gas utility may charge different rates to the homeowner, or the utility may be interested in receiving information from the homeowner regarding gas usage data for example. Thus, a micro-controller 106 associated with the home appliance 104 receives data and/or signals from the home energy manager, and in turn re-transmits data to the home energy manager regarding operational mode or operational aspects of the home appliance. The home energy manager receives data through the meter or from the utility directly, and the home energy manager/controller provides data to the utility.

Flow rate device(s) 110 is provided at the home either along a main or branch line and monitors the flow of gas or water into the home. The flow rate device 110 measures the flow rates, provides information to the home energy manager which preferably includes a memory 112 that stores past usage data, present usage data, and can also be programmed to store a selected response or mode of operation for a home appliance 104 depending on the data received from the utility. The homeowner interacts with the controller through a user interface 114, such as a display monitor or touch-screen, to either receive messages and/or input data into the HEM/controller 102. By way of example only, the utility may provide data to the HEM/controller indicative of various operational costs. For example, “low”, “medium”, “high”, and “critical” cost structures may be provided to the controller. The homeowner may program the controller so that various home appliances respond or operate in a particular manner when one of the various pricing levels is indicated or in response to other data or conditions (i.e., not just cost). For example, there may be price points that encourage a homeowner to conserve energy or save money dependent on time or mode of appliance operation or there may be a critical shortage such as a drought where water use must be curtailed. The memory 112 may prompt or suggest operational aspects for the homeowner to consider in deciding whether to alter operation of the home appliances or home devices. The homeowner typically has the option to either accept the suggested mode of operation for the home appliance/device, override the suggestion, or potentially modify to a different course of action. As shown in FIG. 22, this information is then transmitted to the home appliance from the HEM/controller 102, and once the home appliance begins to operate, a return signal or return data is provided to the HEM/controller 102 from the home appliance.

In certain situations, the utility purchases energy off the power grid or may experience an imminent brownout, so that the utility may require the homeowner to turn off non-necessary home appliances, e.g., the air conditioner. In such situations, the utility needs to confirm that the air conditioner is either operational or not. Likewise, essential home appliances such as a refrigerator may need to be modified so that minimal requirements are satisfied, i.e. to prevent food spoilage, but allows other operational aspects to be curtailed to allow the utility to shed further load when the consumer is prompted to do so. If the utility provides a rebate, for example, and the consumer is requested to shed the load but does not do so, the utility (as a result of the two-way communication) can then determine whether or not the rebate should be given to the consumer. Accordingly, the controller may need to override the homeowner in certain limited situations. Even though a homeowner may desire to override the suggestion of a reduced use of an appliance in certain instances, the utility may require that the homeowner choice be overridden. Thus, by “remote subscription” the utility is informed of the action of the homeowner, and may take corresponding action.

The HEM/controller may also measure the flow rates of water or gas into the home. For example, if a load of laundry is being washed, and the homeowner desires to start the dishwasher, the HEM may prompt the homeowner to start the dishwasher at a later time period. The HEM/controller manages the intermingling of operations of the appliances and utility usage in the home. Still another example would be to select price point levels that can be programmed into the HEM/controller. For example at less than 5 kw use, each homeowner may be charged a first level, e.g., 6.5 cents/kw. If homeowner electricity use increases to between 5-7.5 kw, then the rate may increase to 12 cents/kw, or the rate may increase to a third level if above 7.5 kw are used by the homeowner. The particular cutoff points, and the particular prices associated with these price points are not deemed to be limiting and are merely representative of how an HEM/controller can monitor the pricing and usage details. This data can be used to provide recommendations to the homeowner to save money and/or reduce energy consumption. In addition, the HEM/cotroller can receive feedback from the appliances. Yet another aspect of the HEM/controller allows the homeowner to pre-program the desired operation of one or more home appliances into the HEM/controller.

Still another desired function of the two-way communication is that indicators or messages can be sent to the HEM/controller from the appliance (FIG. 23). For example, by monitoring the flow rate of water to a water dispenser or ice maker in a refrigerator-freezer, selected prompts such as “water filter needs to be replaced” can be provided to the HEM/controller. Alternatively, this type of message can be based on a passage of time since the last filter change was completed rather than flow rate. The HEM/controller can display this information on a monitor or user interface 114. Alternatively, the HEM/controller can send a message to a remote device such as a cell phone that then indicates “time to change water filter”(FIG. 24).

Further, diagnostics can be built into the appliance. The HEM/controller can monitor freezer temperatures, for example, and if the freezer compartment temperatures have increased slightly over a certain period of time an indication or message is provided to the homeowner that, based on past experience, there may be a need to call for service. Again, such a message may be provided at the home energy manager/controller 102, or a separate signal provided to a remote device (FIG. 24).

With reference to FIG. 25, service line 200 supplies gas, for example, to a gas meter 202. From the gas meter, one or more branch lines 204 lead to various gas consuming appliances, for example, in the home. Exemplary gas appliances include a gas furnace 206, gas range 208, gas water heater 210, gas space heater 212, and a gas boiler 214. Such a list of appliances is not deemed to be exhaustive, but merely to illustrate various appliances that may use gas. The gas consuming device preferably includes electronic controls that may throttle, delay, curtail, duty cycle, etc. gas flow based on responses being sent to each of the appliances from the home energy manager 220. Thus as illustrated, an RF signal 222, for example from the gas meter 202 provides rate information from the gas meter or utility to the home energy manager, and may also provide consumption limits, or still other information indicative of toll or varying rate situations. The home energy manager 220 preferably forwards these responses wirelessly or through a hard-wired arrangement with one or more of the individual appliances as represented by signal lines 224. For example, it is contemplated that responses may be sent to each of the appliances that indicate “low”, “medium”, “high”, or “critical” operational rates, or an alternative type of response signal being “on”, “off”, or “delay”. Again, the particular message communicated from the home energy manager to the individual appliance is not deemed to be limiting, but may depend on the type of control and/or feedback associated with the individual appliances.

For example, if each appliance included a flow meter, a homeowner could program into the home energy manager the anticipated running usage of each appliance, and then the home energy manager could manage the loads in response to a particular situation. One or more appliances could be throttled or reduced in the amount of gas flow provided. Some appliances would be cut back, perhaps others turned off, other delayed, and/or still other appliances may not be impacted at all.

Typically, however, many gas appliances are either on or off, i.e., they are binary in which one hundred percent (100%) burner usage is provided or the burner is simply turned off. The home energy manager would also know how much each appliance would typically consume in the way of gas, for example, the furnace could use 3 XCFM (FIG. 26), the hot water heater use 2 XCFM (FIG. 27), and a combined use shown in FIG. 28. Comparing the data in FIGS. 26-28 permits the controller to “know” which home appliances are being used so that controller response may be implemented. Again, the particular amount or relative amounts of gas used is only exemplary. Nevertheless under this scenario, the home energy manager could manage loads by communicating with each individual appliance, e.g. with the hot water heater and the furnace.

Similarly, an individual sensor from each appliance flow meter could report back to the HEM and the controller send suitable signals to each of the appliances, and particularly the flow meters if necessary. The HEM can relieve tiered rates, threshold prices, etc. and further manipulate the gas using appliances to control or minimize the “load”. For example, a furnace or gas water heater could be temporarily shut off. Alternatively, a delayed start or a suggested delay could be provided for a gas dryer. Still another example is to delay a water heater start cycle and instead keep gas flow at a lower level. Still another example is to recommend to the user that only the small oven cavity of a dual cavity oven be used in order to reduce the amount of gas load or usage during certain utility events.

If no flow meters were available at each appliance, the HEM could be programmed with the expected running usage of each appliance. The HEM would still manage the loads, knowing for example that a furnace is consuming 200 SCFM of gas when activated and only approximately 2 SCFM of gas when it is off (i.e., to maintain a pilot).

Similar concepts to the exemplary gas supply and gas appliances can be associated with other home services, such as water usage. For example, the home energy manager would recognize or be programmed by the user to recognize that a water sprinkler uses, for example, 20 gallons per minute, while a shower uses 10 gallons per minute, a sink uses 3 gallons per minute, a toilet uses 5 gallons per minute, a dishwasher may have periodic uses, etc. Again, all of this information would be input to the home energy manager so that the home energy manager could recognize what demands are being made on the water supply. These demands could then be prioritized as programmed by the user, or if individual flow meters are available, to reduce overall gallon per minute use during “high energy modes”. For example, reduced water flow could be provided during showers, laundry, etc., or lawn sprinklers could be completely disabled during a drought.

In summary, the homeowner can equip water and gas meters to measure flow rates and drive responses to a gas water heater, a gas furnace, or other home appliances. If the gas or water utilities vary pricing in the future, this data would also be important to the homeowner. Additionally, the flow meters can communicate with the HEM/controller to provide the homeowner with a warning as to broken or leaking gas or water lines by comparing the present flow rate of a given appliance or appliances with historic data of normal consumption. If safety is truly a concern, the system could shut-off the flow of gas or water based on the data analysis.

In some cases, a utility provides customer discounts or rebates for subscribing to proposed suggestions for saving on energy costs, and more particularly reducing energy consumption in association with home appliances. The utility can send a signal that would also “lock-out” the homeowner from disabling a feature once a homeowner has selected to participate in a rebate program.

Still another consideration is to include remote diagnostic features. A signal or message from one or more of the individual appliances to the controller could indicate that the appliance was not operating to predetermined specifications. The controller would analyze the data from the home appliance with the data stored in its memory, and relay a signal or display a message at the controller, or at the utility, or the appliance manufacturer, or perhaps to another remote location such as a cell phone, etc. Various forms of communication are contemplated for such a message or signal, such as wi-fi, wi-max, broadband, cell phone, etc.

The invention has been described with reference to the preferred embodiments. Obviously, modifications and alterations will occur to others upon reading and understanding the preceding detailed description. It is intended that the invention be construed as including all such modifications and alterations.