The Vineyard is among a handful of places in America selected as part of a pilot study involving new “smart grid” appliances which take advantage of cheaper off-peak electricity.

The Vineyard Energy Project (VEP) has been awarded almost $800,000 to be part of the project, which will be carried out in association with General Electric, and which will see 50 Island homes fitted out with new smart appliances, able to be remotely controlled to take advantage of times when demand for power is lower and it is therefore cheaper.

The money comes as part of the federal stimulus package, under which the Obama administration this week announced an investment of $3.4 billion in the largest single energy grid modernization in U.S. history.

“At its core,” said David McGlinchey, the executive director of VEP, “the smart grid is a very broad concept based on the idea that there will be improved communication between the end user of the electricity and the source, and that will lead to better management of it and better efficiency.

“Our joint effort with General Electric is built around their range of prototype smart appliances — fridges, water heaters, washing machines and so on — which come with a communications capacity to be controlled or adjusted remotely from a central control point.”

Early next year, he hopes, 50 volunteer Vineyard homeowners will have signed up for the program. They will be required to buy the appliances themselves, at cost, from G.E. and will then be plugged into the control system which the VEP is building.

“We’re going to experiment with the idea that at peak times, when the electric load is heaviest, we’ll be able to reduce the amount of electricity consumed by each of these households by small amounts; in aggregate it should make a significant reduction,” he said.

“The premise is that at times of peak load, electricity is most expensive. It requires additional generating capacity — another plant to be started up, or an existing plant to be turned up. Either way, it’s creating more pollution.”

This might mean, for example, that a water heater would be turned off at peak times. But the water in it would not lose a lot of heat before the power kicked in again during off-peak hours.

The $787,250 in grant money received by the VEP would be used to support the communications infrastructure — the software and WiFi systems — which allows for the regulation of the appliances.

Mr. McGlinchey acknowledged it seemed like a lot of money for just 50 homes.

“But the great thing is after we develop this infrastructure, it will be in place to do a lot of other things. It will allow charging of plug-in hybrids, for example. It will allow for easier integration of renewable energy into the grid. Once we’ve built this infrastructure, it allows a lot of different functions. And it could serve a much broader population once it’s developed,” he said.

Apart from supplying the appliances, G.E. will help the VEP measure the data, which will not just be about energy savings.

“It’s not just about the numbers,” said Mr. McGlinchey. “We also need to measure the cultural impact. So there will be focus groups afterwards.”

“If we produce [power saving] results, but everybody absolutely hates it, it’s not a sustainable solution.”

As for how the Vineyard came to be one of just a few places across the country selected for the pilot project, Mr. McGlinchey said G.E. contacted him.

There is a G.E. employee person who lives here, who knew about this technology the company was developing, knew about the Island’s interest in energy efficiency and thought it would be a good match for a pilot connection,” he said, adding:

“The Island is very focused on renewable energy and more importantly, energy efficiency these days. And I think it’s exciting we get to be on the cutting edge of this smart grid technology.”

The Obama administration’s goal is to build a smart energy grid that will cut costs for consumers, allow power to flow easily from place to place around the country according to demand, make for more reliable service and incorporate more renewable energy.

The Electric Power Research Institute estimates it could lead to savings of $20.4 billion for consumers by 2030 and cut total energy use by four per cent.