Appliances require deep thinking, too.

General Electric today announced that it will invest over $400 million into four centers of excellence dedicated toward designing and manufacturing refrigeration products. A year ago, GE plunked $600 million into facilities for developing energy efficient washers and water heaters. Both efforts will lead to 1,300 jobs in the U.S., according to the company.

Will we see green appliance wars? Probably. The more stringent Energy Star standards coming in 2014 will force manufacturers to, among other things, swap out foam insulating processes. NIST is also working out standards for connecting appliances to home energy management and demand response systems. One early goal will be to program the defrost cycle in refrigerators to occur during off-peak hours. 

Appliances, moreover, are one of the few green markets where aesthetics and design allow manufacturers to boost margins and/or gain market share. An aesthetically pleasing solar panel? Solar manufacturers and installers say they can charge a bit more for attractive panels, but solar is largely still ruled by cost-per-watt. By contrast, Bosch has shown one can nab a hefty premium for gleaming metal surfaces and hidden controls.

Panasonic recently showcased a refrigerator rigged with light and motion sensors as well as microcontrollers. The refrigerator studies your patterns and allows the internal temperature to slightly rise during the off-hours to save energy. The company also has a snazzy tabletop dishwasher in the works. Both LG and Samsung have thriving appliance lines and have said they will invest billions in energy efficiency for these product areas.

NXP Semiconductor, meanwhile, is developing chips for integrating appliances to home area networks.