Why the Safety of Smart Appliances Matters
UL published Certification Requirement Decisions for smart appliances, based on findings around emerging product capabilities, potential user behaviors and safety implications.
WHY THE SAFETY OF SMART APPLIANCES MATTERS
Smart appliances play a critical role in achieving the full potential of smart grid infrastructure to reduce energy use and costs and enhance the reliability of the power supply. At this early stage in the development of the smart appliance industry, when product capabilities and consumer usage patterns are evolving, it was imperative for UL to both facilitate manufacturer innovation and consumer safety. Ultimately, this will help consumers around the world reap the benefits of smart appliances.
Demand for smart-enabled or smart appliances is expected to undergo explosive growth over the next several years. Two factors are fueling these expectations. First, the proliferation of smartphones is creating marketplace demand for “smart” features, including expanded functionality and anytime, anywhere convenience. The second factor is rising energy costs, coupled with the fact that electrical appliances account for a significant portion of home energy use. Given these factors, the nascent smart appliance market is projected to expand by 394 percent over five years, surpassing $15 billion in sales globally by 2015.1 The U.S. is expected to constitute 36 percent of that market.2
Facilitated by the build-out of smart grid infrastructure and the adoption of smart meters, smart appliances use advanced electronic and communications technologies to enable consumers to closely monitor, control and reduce energy use and costs.3 Six core capabilities broadly define the energy-related characteristics of smart appliances:
- Providing real-time electricity pricing information, which allows the consumer to adjust or reschedule appliance usage to reduce energy costs.
- Enabling consumers to set their own operating parameters (e.g., when and at what settings the appliance should run), facilitating usage during off-peak periods.
- Offering consumers the opportunity to take advantage of utility incentives without compromising the appliance’s critical safety functions.
- Responding to emergency power situations and helping prevent brownouts or blackouts — without compromising its operational integrity.
- Interacting with a home energy management system, which enables a consumer to conveniently monitor and manage the home’s overall energy usage.
- Facilitating the use of energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, by shifting demand to capitalize on favorable generation conditions.4
While the first commercially available smart appliance came on the market in 2009, the smart appliance category — which holds such great promise of energy and cost savings for consumers — is still in its infancy in terms of total penetration of the consumer market. New manufacturers are entering the picture and continued advancement is in progress. Because of this, user behavior in response to new technology and functionality is largely unknown and can be very difficult to accurately predict.
As new smart appliance capabilities and other innovations are established through the application of advanced technologies, new consumer behaviors may emerge. Because of this, unforeseen product safety issues could arise that are not fully addressed in current end-product standards. Appropriately anticipating this product safety gap presented a unique situation for UL. Product safety standards must address product design and use and respond to continued advancements as they develop.
WHAT DID UL DO?
In 2011, UL began a dialogue with manufacturers, retailers and trade associations to better understand emerging product capabilities, potential user behaviors and the safety implications of smart appliances. This innovative approach is the New Science UL developed to identify specific safety concerns related to smart appliances, including:
- Functional safety: Smart appliances are designed to accept incoming signals that control their operation. However, indiscriminate or unintended signals could compromise an appliance’s protective functions or cause an appliance to operate in a manner that may be hazardous to consumers. Depending on the appliance, it may be necessary to restrict the remote activation of some operations or the modification of certain operating parameters. For example, an electric oven with a self-cleaning function that can be activated remotely might require the user to physically lock the oven door prior to remotely initiating the self-cleaning function.
- Interconnected electronic circuits: Smart appliances incorporate interfaces and circuitry designed to enable the communication functions required for effective power management. Such electronic communication circuits, as well as the circuits that power them, must be designed so that their combination with onboard appliance electronics protects the user from electric shock.
- Enabled functions: In theory, a smart appliance can receive incoming signals that could add new operating functionality or modify existing functionality in a manner that has not been thoroughly evaluated. For example, a clothes washer will normally wash, rinse and then spin. Altering this order would be an unanticipated operation for the user and could result in overheating or risk of injury. Controls may be required to prevent the addition of new unintended functions or the modification of existing functions that have not been investigated for compliance with the standard.
- Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) immunity and emissions: Communication circuitry within or on a smart appliance may generate unintentional electromagnetic interference (EMI) that could compromise the protective functionality of the appliance. Because of this, the immunity of onboard electronic devices and circuits must be assessed, with shielding provided in the event that radiators may produce unwanted interference.5
The result of UL’s collaboration with manufacturers, retailers and trade associations is a series of Certification Requirement Decisions (CRDs) that UL published for smart appliances. When used in conjunction with applicable end-product standards, these CRDs provide confidence that any smart-enabled appliance functionality will not conflict with the overall safety of the product. UL has published CRDs for the following household categories: electric storage tank water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, ranges/cooktops, energy management equipment, room air conditioners, microwave ovens, and clothes washers and dryers.6
UL is helping make smart appliances safe through a series of CRDs that, coupled with existing safety standards, will help ensure consumer protection while allowing for manufacturer creativity and further product innovation. UL’s New Science is facilitating smarter energy usage today and helping safeguard the explosive growth projected for the smart appliance industry in the future.