General Electric wants to combine its energy efficient appliances, solar and wind power generation systems, energystoragesystems and "smart home" networks to offer homebuilders a complete package to achieve the holy grail of energy efficiency – the "net zero energy home."

But that goal – a home that, over the course of a year, generates more energy than it uses – is "only possible with the full deployment of the smart grid," Steve Fludder, vice president of GE's Ecomagination division, said Tuesday at GE's Niskayuna, N.Y. research center.

That's the idea behind GE's new push into homes, the "end-points" of the electricity grid that GE is already briskly engaged in making smarter through technologies meant to provide digital data and two-way communications between utilities and their customers.

Adding to its line of devices like smart meters, grid sensors, wind power systems and energy storage systems, GE said Tuesday that it will release its own "home energy manager" early next year – a device to link appliances including a "smart" thermostat that it is developing.

"That will be the cybernetic brain that will interface between the grid and all these devices in the home," Fludder said. Combining the device with appliances, air conditioners and other devices that can adjust power use to save energy, and adding a 3-kilowatt solar panel array on the roof, should allow a typical home to make more energy than it uses over the course of a year according to GE's calculations, he said.

The home energy manager will likely cost $200 to $250 and is now being tested in pilot projects, said Kevin Nolan, vice president of technology for GE’s consumer and industrial division. As for new “smart” appliances, they’re also being tested in pilot projects and are expected to be about $10 more than traditional appliances, but rollout will depend on how quickly utilities can support them with time-of-use pricing schemes that can be digitally communicated to homeowners, he said.

Tuesday's news puts GE firmly in the smart home field, a space occupied not only by startups such as Tendril Networks, Energate, Control4, Greenbox Technology and Onzo but also by IT giants including Google, Microsoft and Cisco (see stories here, here and here).

It looks like at least one of those startups may get a boost of out GE's efforts to make homes net energy suppliers, however. Tendril, announced last week that it would integrate its home energy management software platform used by utilities to work with GE's dryers, refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances (see GE, Tendril Team Up on Smart Home Technology).

It might also be a boon to Silver Spring Networks, which is working with GE on smart meter deployments by utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Commonwealth Edison Co. and Florida Power & Light, (see GE, Silver Spring Land ComEd Smart Meter Pilot and A Million Smart Meters for Miami).

Bob Gilligan, GE's vice president of transmission and distribution, said the Miami project could serve as a test bed for integrating home energy management, distributed power sources like rooftop solar panels and plug-in electric vehicles.

GE on Tuesday added a few new projects to its smart grid list, including what it calls the Maui Smart Grid Project with the Hawaiian Electric Co. and Maui Electric Co. in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as a project in New Zealand.

GE also announced Tuesday its new "asset optimization" service – essentially a service to oversee energy devices it deploys to make sure they're working to best effectiveness. Its first such project is at an Eka Chemicals plant in Salaberry-de Valleyfield, Canada.

As for batteries, GE recently won a $100 million grant from the to develop high-temperature sodium batteries for grid energy storage as well as for trains, and has invested in lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems (see GE Aims For Energy Storage For Trains, Grid).

The DOE is promising billions of dollars of grants, loans and other support for smart grid, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. On Tuesday it announced the latest program, aimed at providing $300 million to encourage consumers to buy energy efficient appliances.