The “Smart” Dryer and TOU Rates: A Stupid Idea on So Many Levels

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions

Smart Dryer Appliance ImageWithin the last couple of months I have posted comprehensive articles to demonstrate how consumers financially suffer with smart meters and that they are also financially and socially punished when subjected to Time-of-Use (TOU) electricity rates [1][2].

Those articles, although comprehensive, were somewhat broad in nature.  Let us take a closer look at one particular household appliance that is frequently touted by smart grid proponents, the “smart” dryer.  It is advertised that you can “save money” by using a smart tumble dryer in the late evening when electricity rates are low.  There is an inference that you would place your washed clothing in a smart dryer, go to bed, and the dryer would later turn on and complete its drying cycles while you were sleeping.  Before proceeding, let me present some common sense public service advice on tumble dryer safety:

Tumble Dryer Safety: “Occupants are advised to use tumble dryers and washing machines when they can be supervised.  Ideally they should not be switched on and left to run overnight whilst people are sleeping.  We would encourage people to switch off all electrical appliances when vacating the house and during the night to reduce the risk of fire in the home.” [3]

“Turn the dryer off if you leave home or when you go to bed.” [4]

In addition:

“The Chief Fire Officers Association … warns that running electrical appliances while you are asleep will put your family at greater risk of being trapped by fire.  Andy Reynolds, electrical safety expert for the association, says: ‘Never leave a tumble dryer, washing machine or dishwasher running when you have gone to bed or have left the house unoccupied’.” …

“It’s unbelievable customers are being told to run appliances at night to save money,” according to Mark Todd, marketing director at the price comparison site Energyhelpline. [5]

As you can see, the above safety recommendations directly conflict with the intended use of smart laundry dryers as it is not a good or “smart” idea to allow tumble dryers to be completely “unsupervised” by their human operators.

What initially inspired me to write this blog article was an August 2015, article by Greentech Media [6] that included a headline that “smart utility rates could slash monthly bills” for consumers.  The first sentence of the article was that:

“Homeowners could save up to 40 percent on their electricity bills and utilities could slash billions of costs every year in grid upgrades if demand-flexible rate plans were widely available, according to a new study from Rocky Mountain Institute.”

Needless to say, when these types of claims are made, I have no doubt that rosy assumptions and deception are involved.  O.K., so let us now look at the report issued by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in August of last year, “The Economics of Demand Flexibility” [7].  “Demand flexibility” is described in the RMI report as “communication and control technology [used] to shift electricity use across hours of the day … at lower cost.  It does this by applying automatic control to reshape a customer’s demand profile continuously in ways that either are invisible to or minimally affect the customer.”

Below is a figure from the RMI report that illustrates the type of load profile necessary to accomplish the 40% type of savings for a customer utility bill.  As described by RMI, “loads are shifted to the least-expensive hours away from grid peak.”

RMI Price Optimized Load Profile

In my judgment, the above load profile is absurd.  The “smart air conditioning” prevents A/C use from 4 p.m. until almost 6 a.m. the next day.  It allows you to only heat your hot water heater from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. with no heating for the rest of the day.  There is also an assumption that you will have purchased a “smart electric vehicle” that is charged when rates are low from 1 a.m. to 4. a.m.  As a side note, an electric vehicle (EV) cannot be considered as an economically viable purchase, and in the United States, few people would purchase EVs unless they received a government rebate/subsidy funded at the expense of the general taxpayer.

The “price-optimized load profile” assumes that your “smart dryer” will operate from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.  Additional conditions and parameters mentioned in the RMI report are as follows:

“To optimize dryer load, we allow the start time of each cycle to shift by up to six hours in either direction to minimize total cycle costs.”

The incremental cost for a smart dryer is $500: “Difference in price between a smart dryer ~$1,500 and an equivalent non-smart dryer ~$1,000.”

It should be noted that in two of the three scenarios considered in the RMI report, the smart dryer was acknowledged as not economically viable:

“[Demand flexible] DF-capable dryers… at current prices, do not appear cost-effective for real-time price arbitrage under this specific rate. …  In the case of dryers, a minimally invasive and easily accomplished behavior change — not running the dryer during weekday peak periods — could deliver some demand charge savings for zero incremental equipment costs.”

Based upon the above, the RMI report recommends to use a “base dryer” to help offset TOU pricing by using a “minimally invasive behavior change” and just not using your tumble dryer during weekdays to deliver some savings, i.e., not to be penalized by the TOU rates.

What is really important here is to realize that when being subjected to TOU rates or so-called dynamic pricing, you are severely limited in your ability to “save money” on your utility bill due to “uncontrolled load” or what is sometimes called “inflexible load.”  Although there are a few electrical loads that can be shifted to “off-peak” periods by the consumer, there are many other loads that cannot be shifted, such as your refrigerator, lighting, cooking, television use in the evening, etc.  These loads will be subjected to the highest peak-level pricing since they cannot be shifted.  The way that this phenomenon was described in a recent study from Belgium [8] is as follows:

As the flexible share of the total consumption remains small, the non-smart share represents a financial risk for the consumer.”

“For dynamic pricing to be risk free and financially more interesting than flat tariffs, either the flexible share of the consumption must be larger, e.g., with smart electric heating and/or smart charging of electric vehicles, or the dynamic tariff should be applied only to the separately measured flexible share of the consumption.”

The above statements are critically important.  You are extremely unlikely to benefit from TOU rates unless you have a large load that can either be applied or shifted to an off-peak period, or alternatively, that TOU rates are only applied to a few specific loads such as EVs.  This would argue for moving away from smart meters and instead to utilize direct load controlled devices for specific appliances or electrical  loads that would more effectively be accomplished through home Internet routers.

Let me now summarize some of the risks and costs associated with “smart” dryers:

  • There are safety issues in allowing smart dryers to start at times when they are unsupervised by a human operator, i.e., the risk for fire damage is increased [3][4][5] .
  • The smart dryer is more expensive than a normal dryer, approximately $500 USD, and you will likely never recover that extra cost though lower electricity rates or utility rebates [7]; additionally, repair costs may be higher and/or the expected lifetime for the appliance may be less;
  • The scenario considered by RMI involves a smart dryer operated at night when the drying cycle ends at 3 a.m.  Personally, based upon my life experiences, I would never do this, because when I would recover the clothes in the morning, they would be wrinkled requiring pressing with an electric iron  that would otherwise not be necessary; you appear to be also limited to one load of laundry per day;
  • Energy VampireA smart dryer is “always on” to some extent in terms of power usage and thus is a source of “vampire” energy usage.  How environmentally friendly is that?;
  • Smart dryers emit potentially harmful radiofrequency (RF) radiation when communicating with a smart meter and Internet router;
  • The use of smart dryers results in an invasion of privacy as dryer usage is tracked by people outside the home [9]; and
  • Smart dryers are hackable due to their communications connection with a smart meter and/or Internet router.  Hacking into the smart dryer may also result in cyber threats to other appliances or devices within the home that are part of the same Home Area Network [10].

In addition to the above, the whole concept of shifting electricity usage to off-peak periods is supported by smart grid proponents who claim that this shift results in lower green-house gas emissions.  This claim is highly exaggerated and in many cases not true.  As explained in my article [11] describing recent research at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago Booth School:

“Time-based pricing, the researchers find, is also no panacea for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.  In Ireland’s case, emissions remained about the same when time-based pricing was applied.”

“’Utilities promote these strategies by saying they’re environmentally friendly, but we find that’s not necessarily the case,’ Islegen points out.  ‘There is a possibility that, depending on the energy mix in the region, these pricing schemes can have a negative environmental impact.’  If base-load production is powered by coal but peak load is handled by ‘greener’ power plants like natural gas plants — as is typical in many parts of the U.S. — then a shift in demand from peak load to base load would trigger more emissions.”

Conclusions

This article has further demonstrated that “smart” devices such as smart tumble dryers are unlikely to deliver financial benefit to the consumer and actually expose the consumer to a number of risks, inconvenience, and reduced quality of life.  Furthermore, due to considerable consumer demand that cannot be shifted to off-peak pricing periods and dubious claims  for reducing green-house gas emissions, this article has revealed additional weaknesses in the argument that TOU rates will provide benefits to the consumer or the environment.  Finally, the article shows that more effective shifting of demand and possible financial savings for the consumer can be accomplished without the use of smart meters.   Thus, the use of “smart” dryers in combination with “smart” meters and TOU rates is a truly stupid idea … and on so many levels.

Source Material for this Article

[1] “Vast Majority of Consumers Suffer Financial ‘Net Loss’ with Smart Meters,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, February 2016, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/02/16/consumers-suffer-financial-loss-with-smart-meters/

[2] “Families Punished by ‘Smart’ Meters and TOU Rates, Recent Study Confirms,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, January 2016, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/01/31/families-punished-by-smart-meters-and-tou-rates/

[3] Tumble Dryer Safety, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, at http://www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/1002.asp

[4] “Clothes Dryer Safety,” National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); available for review at https://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/nfpa-clothes-dryer-safety-tips.pdf

[5] “Using your washing machine at night could cost you your life: Firefighters warn over plan to charge different rates at different times of day,” This Is Money, March 22, 2016, at http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-3505060/Using-washing-machine-night-cost-life-Firefighters-warn-plan-charge-different-rates-different-times-day.html

[6] “Smart Utility Rates Could Slash Grid Investment Costs and Monthly Bills,” Greentech Media, August 26, 2015, at http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Smart-Utility-Rates-Could-Slash-Grid-Investment-Costs-and-Monthly-Bills

[7] “The Economics of Demand Flexibility: How ‘Flexiwatts’ Create Quantifiable Value for Customers and the Grid,” Rocky Mountain Institute, August 2015; available for review at https://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/rmi-economics-of-demand-flexibility-full-report.pdf

[8] “An automated residential demand response pilot experiment, based on day-ahead dynamic pricing,” by Koen Vanthournout, et.al., Applied Energy, Volume 155, 1 October 2015, Pages 195–203; available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306261915007333

[9] “Use Smart Appliances with Extreme Caution,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, June 2013, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2013/06/05/use-smart-appliances-with-caution/

[10] “Recent Massive Cyber Attack Involved a “Smart” Fridge,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, January 2014, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2014/01/19/cyber-attack-involving-the-smart-fridge/

[11] “Consumers and Environment Unlikely to Benefit from Smart Meters, Confirms Latest Research,” SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, September 2015, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/09/11/consumers-and-environment-unlikely-to-benefit-from-smart-meters/

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About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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3 Responses to The “Smart” Dryer and TOU Rates: A Stupid Idea on So Many Levels

  1. André Fauteux says:

    Hi KT, What do the firefighters recommend: surely not standing next to your dryer while it’s operating? To me, just cleaning up the lint screen and exhaust should be enough, no? Here in Quebec, we don’t have time of use rates yet, except for those who heat with dual energy (electricity and oil during peak periods). I don’t see a problem with using the dryer after 7 pm (off-peak) or even at night. Only problem with TOU rates in our climate is that it would increase wood heating pollution. Best regards André

    — André Fauteux, Editor/Publisher La Maison du 21e siècle Magazine info@maisonsaine.ca http://www.maisonsaine.ca 450 228-1555

    >

    • One statistic from the National Fire Protection Association is that “the leading cause (32%) of home clothes dryer and washer fires was failure to clean.” Yet that means that 68% was due to other causes. In some cases the equipment can malfunction or the clothing itself can catch fire; from actual fire reports:

      “Investigators determined that the dryer’s electric heating element ignited the clothes in the unit.”

      “After the fire was extinguished, investigators determined that the dryer’s motor malfunctioned, causing clothing and carpeting to overheat and ignite.”

      Since you have a lot of moving parts, heating elements, electrical wiring/components, moisture, lint, combustible materials, etc., it is unwise to leave tumble dryers unattended to the point that the homeowner is not available to avert disaster if something goes wrong. Consistent with the content of the above blog article, the last item listed in the linked safety tips from the NFPA is:

      “Turn the dryer off if you leave home or when you go to bed.”

      https://skyvisionsolutions.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/nfpa-clothes-dryer-safety-tips.pdf

  2. Marilynne says:

    Great article. But you may want to add one additional point. Some demand response programs will allow the utility to adjust things on an as needed basis. So if they have a peak spike, they can power down your dryer to say 50% for the 30 second interval or more as needed to avoid overload of the system – demand response. You would get some type of small credit as part of whatever home energy management scheme you were participating in. But that means your appliance will be subject to interruption in its normal operating procedure. What does that type of action due to product life span? Most likely will shorten it and also leave it vulnerable to damage. Shorten appliance life, who benefits? Also more technology means higher repairs (or possibility of the repair being so high that it becomes more economical to replace than repair). My sister’s non-smart, but highly electronic fridge, broke last year. The repairman said the part needed to fix it was $850! She bought a new fridge even though her old fridge was only 6 years old. How green is that?

    They are also planning to trade in demand response/energy efficiency – they are already do some of that. What happens to “voluntary” when your home energy service provider starts trading your demand response energy and starts speculative trading? I don’t even want to think about it. Enron on steroids anyone?

    Yes they will lower your electric bill and give you that dollar cost savings and put it in your right pocket. Then they will sell you that home energy management system and service, virus protection software for your “smart” appliances, and take $10 out of your left pocket. Progress indeed!

    [From the Moderator: Based upon the above comment, the article was revised/updated to mention that “additionally, repair costs may be higher and/or the expected lifetime for the appliance may be less;”]

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