Energy consumption and real time information
Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 10, 2008
The New York Times reports that a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study shows people could substantially reduce their energy consumption and spending when given the means to constantly monitor and adjust their level of usage. Specifically, the program involved the following measures:
In the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, 112 homes were equipped with digital thermostats, and computer controllers were attached to water heaters and clothes dryers. These controls were connected to the Internet. The homeowners could go to a Web site to set their ideal home temperature and how many degrees they were willing to have that temperature move above or below the target. They also indicated their level of tolerance for fluctuating electricity prices. In effect, the homeowners were asked to decide the trade-off they wanted to make between cost savings and comfort.
Giving consumers this level of information and control over their consumption choices gives them a clearer set of options. The current system in which all energy decisions are bundled with exogenous shocks into one price can be opaque:
The market signals from household utility bills are not clear to people, some experts say. Conservation steps, they note, may bring savings of only a few percentage points, and even those may be obscured by seasonal swings in electricity use and pricing.
Still, the enthusiasm over this project should be tempered. In this geographically skewed sample, I’m skeptical of how many people were actually responding to an improved awareness of cost incentives:
The monetary savings were nice, but Mr. Brous said his main motivation for joining the project was to participate in research that might accelerate the spread of energy efficiency programs.
One must be careful when extrapolating these results to a broader program, as I’m guessing not every part of the country is as ecstatic about energy efficiency deployment for its own sake.