Smart Dryer: Your next set of Whirlpool laundry equipment may be compatible with the smart grid of advanced electrical distribution.
Photos: Courtesy Whirlpool Corp. Smart Dryer: Your next set of Whirlpool laundry equipment may be compatible with the smart grid of advanced electrical distribution.

It may be more or less invisible, but the smart grid is poised to revolutionize home energy use and electrical distribution.

Simply put, the smart grid upgrades the existing infrastructure of the electrical power grid with two-way digital technology that ideally enables greater control, monitoring, and cost- and resource-efficient use of electricity for utilities and property owners. Several countries, including the U.S., are making the switch or are committed to doing so within the next 20 years.

Domestically, the smart grid is supported by $100 million allocated under the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and another $11 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the federal stimulus package).

Several public agencies, utilities, and private companies—including Whirlpool (appliances) and Siemens (electrical distribution)—are developing products and policies for the smart grid. “We’re on the brink of a flood of smart grid projects,” says Wanda Reder, chairwoman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Smart Grid Task Force. A recent report by The Cleantech Group estimated smart-grid investments in advanced metering, demand response, and distribution management will total $2.75 billion in 2010.

Whirlpool, for one, is matching a $19.3 million federal grant to push the delivery of smart-grid appliances, starting in 2011 with clothes dryers that could save up to $40 per year in energy.