Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

The future is (almost) now

Posted by Daniel Hall on December 12, 2007

Tim “Rhymes with Cab” Haab responds to today’s article in the Post about DC’s new peak electricity pricing program:

Too cool. I’m picturing little LED displays on light switches and wall plates that post the current electricity price. Then when my kids charge their cell phones, GameBoys, ipods, portable DVD players, digital cameras…they’ll at least know how much I have to pay. They won’t care, but, at least they’ll know.

But like Mike Giberson over at Knowledge Problem, I’m a little worried about this:

Pepco is about to start sending personal e-mail messages to Jonathan and Lauren Schwabish every few hours that could determine when they do the dishes, wash the baby’s clothes or turn on the air conditioner.

Huh? This is the best they can come up with for notifying customers? Because what I’m picturing is more like what they talk about later in the article:

The Schwabishes and hundreds of others in the D.C. pilot program got another device, too, a “smart thermostat” that will allow Pepco to send a radio signal to their home to cycle down their central air conditioning for 15 or 30 minutes an hour when power prices are high and ramp it back up then they fall.

I love the idea of knowing exactly what I’m paying for electricity in real time. But I’m an enormous nerd. Realistically, it’s unlikely that most people will pay really close attention to it. The idea of automated appliances that can cycle down would be an enormous benefit, particularly as more and more people had them. If all the neighborhoods on a block had them, for example, one-quarter of the houses could automatically have their air conditioning cycled down for only 15 minutes of each hour of peak use, and it would significantly cut down — and smooth — consumption. But, as I’ve been doing my whole life, I’m just going to have to wait a few years for the future to get here.

Update: Lynne Kiesling at Knowledge Problem has more.

One Response to “The future is (almost) now”

  1. Susie said

    Agreed, email messages to Mr. and Mrs. Schwabish seem pretty absurd. The Pepco press release actually says information will be provided in text messages to the “smart” thermostats to alert people of peak prices. I’m crossing my fingers that the Washington Post just made a misinterpretation.

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