This article is part of an ongoing State of Innovation series exploring global inventions and innovation trends in 12 key industries. Download the State of Innovation report on the Home Appliances industry now, or download the full 2017 report here.
With the price of electricity soaring once again, families are finding it more and more difficult to afford the cost of running everyday kitchen appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers. It is true we can easily save money by not using tumble dryers, but refrigerators and washing machines are a modern necessity (I for one am not ready to go back to cool boxes and wash boards just yet).
The internet is filled with advice on how to save energy when using kitchen appliances, from choosing A+ or “ENERGY STAR” appliances to regularly defrosting fridges and freezers or running dishwashers and washing machines during the night.
Studying the problem
A couple of years ago, the UK consumer magazine Which? ran a three-year investigation called MarketWatch and found – unsurprisingly – undeclared energy use in a majority of product groups (e.g., 54 percent more energy for vacuum cleaners, 12 percent for refrigerators, etc.). A new trend is not only to focus on how much energy each kitchen appliance uses, but how one appliance could use the waste energy from another.
A new trend is not only to focus on how much energy each kitchen appliance uses, but how one appliance could use the waste energy from another.”
In 2014, the European Commission funded a four-year study around “low-waste” domestic kitchens, named GREEN KITCHEN. This project investigated different ways to tackle energy use in a domestic kitchen, such as waste-heat storage recovery based on Phase Change Materials, induction cooking, magnetic cooling and energetically coupling white goods. The idea for the latter was to use heat generated by a refrigerator to warm up water that will be used in a dishwasher for the washing cycle. These new technologies remain works in progress, as their costs are still too high (and their performance still too low), but we are definitely moving in the right direction.
Harvesting waste heat from kitchen appliances and using it somewhere else in the home is not a novel concept. Back in 1976, a German company patented a device for recovering waste heat from washing machines, driers and dishwashers to provide sufficient heat energy for a bath.
In the past few years, we have seen a large increase in patents around domestic automation, also known as domotics.”
In the past few years, we have seen a large increase in patents around domestic automation, also known as domotics. The Internet of Things, or IoT, is another term appearing regularly in the media. For a long time, the IoT has helped large energy companies become more efficient, but it is now turning its focus to domestic uses. Its first appearance in our home was the smart meters, but IoT can now interact with an increasing number of intelligent home devices to allow you to remotely control your domestic appliances (lights, HVAC systems, doorbells, CCTV systems, etc.). Many energy suppliers boast about the advantages of using their remote-control apps, such as Hive (British Gas) but all of them focus on remotely controlling your heating, hot water and lighting systems, and at around $15 per month, that doesn’t come cheap.
Domestic automation needs to widen its scope, and the latest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) exhibition in Las Vegas shows that amazing development is happening in that field. The Smart Home Marketplace at CES 2017 featured over 200 exhibitors, most of them presenting innovations around IoT.
An attractive development, the Smart Home Platform devised by digitalSTROM, will bring your home (or at least parts of it) to the “domotic age” simply by using its new terminal blocks without the need to invest in expensive new domestic appliances. Digital personal assistants, such as Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple) or Google Home have also made their way into our homes to interact with our Internet of Things devices, to command our TVs and audio systems, check the weather and traffic but also control our lighting and heating systems.
Large manufacturers of domestic appliances are also focusing on “intelligent white goods.” Siemens has introduced its iSensoric feature in a series of domestic appliances, from dishwashers that use a beam of light to evaluate the level of soiling on the dishes, washing machines that determine the exact amount ofdetergent needed based on the weight of the load and the selected program, to fridge freezers that measure the temperature inside and outside the fridge, and also provide humidity control to guarantee food longevity. Samsung went a step further and turned the everyday fridge into a Family Hub refrigerator. This fridge can tell you when items in your fridge will reach their sell-by date, send photos of its content to your phone using three interior cameras, but also synchronize the calendars of the whole family or even order a pizza.
This fridge can tell you when items in your fridge will reach their sell-by date, send photos of its content to your phone using three interior cameras, but also synchronize the calendars of the whole family or even order a pizza.”
Another way to save money in the kitchen would be to reduce the amount of food we waste. According to some statistics, UK households throw away more than 7 million tons of food each year, which is equivalent to around $1,000 per family.
In May 2016, European researchers succeeded in developing the FoodSniffer, an easy-to-use, smart phone-driven system for measuring the safety of our food. This handheld reader includes a miniaturized optoelectronic chip able to simultaneously detect in a very short time a range of harmful substances emitted by the food and tell you whether it is safe to eat. This is particularly useful with meat, as most of us throw away packs of meat the moment they hit their use-by date. A version of this gadget was recently featured in a money-saving television program, but once again, this item is a bit on the pricey side at around $120.
…This handheld reader includes a miniaturized optoelectronic chip able to simultaneously detect in a very short time a range of harmful substances emitted by the food and tell you whether it is safe to eat.”
But you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a new fridge to acquire some of the features introduced by companies such as Siemens or Samsung. Another way to keep our food fresh for longer is to inject activated oxygen (O3) in our fridge to neutralize bacteria, mold and other microbes by inhibiting ethylene gas that triggers decay and extending the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables. This can be an integrated part of a top-of-the-range fridge but can also be done using a clever little battery-powered gadget such as BerryBreeze that you can place in any fridge.
The future might be to find a balance between using more efficient domestic appliances, e.g., by using newer components or cooling/heating methods, integrated intelligent software, or – if this fails to bring benefits – find an efficient way to run these appliances together.
The hope is that in the near future, a new home automation system will be clever enough to organize the running of our domestic appliances without any human input, not only by making sure our heating is off, our house is secure when we are out or reducing food spoilage in our fridge, but also by managing our domestic appliances, e.g., scheduling the running order of the dishwasher, fridge, drier and so on, so that the energy created by one appliance can be used by another in some kind of energy-saving domestic chain.
The final stages could even leave enough energy for a nice cup of tea or even a warm shower first thing in the morning, together with a few extra cents in your pocket.
To learn more, read the State of Innovation report on the Home Appliances industry, or download the full 2017 report here, which showcases latest inventions from around the world and focuses on trends in the top 12 industries.