Monday, June 7, 2010

Post # 21 - Some Good Smart Meter News From Cape Cod

Over the past few months, I have highlighted problems that have occurred with smart meter rollouts in California, Texas, Australia, and Ontario (see Post ## 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 16, and 17). But, while those problems are real and significant, there have also been successes.

For example, earlier this Spring the Cape Cod Light Compact an inter-municipal regional energy services organization representing 21 Massachusetts municipalities (approximately 200,000 residents) – released results from its Residential Smart Home Energy Monitoring Pilot. This program, commenced in February 2009, uses web-based in-home monitoring software (developed by GroundedPower, Inc.) that: (1) provides real-time viewing of actual energy consumption, (2) suggests opportunities for energy saving, (3) actually allows participants to see their neighbors consumption habits, and (4) includes social networking features designed to encourage sharing of energy-saving tips.

The Compact’s independent auditor, the PA Consulting Group, reports that the 100 active participants on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard reduced their daily energy use by 9.3 percent, which is about 2.9 kilowatt hours per day. Approximately three-quarters of the participants reduced energy consumption during the course of the project, and one-third of those participants reduced usage by more than 4 kilowatt hours per days. Interestingly, the ability to share information with other households was perceived as a major benefit by many participants, while a large majority were neither overly concerned with on-line security nor energy “privacy.” Eighty percent logged on to the site weekly, with one quarter doing so daily and nearly half more than three times a week. Nearly all want to continue using the service, and most are willing to pay $8.00 per month for the service once the pilot concludes. To read the Compact’s press release, see here. To read PA Consulting’s entire report, see here.

Of course, the Cape Cod Light Compact is not a large, investor-owned utility with millions of customer in its service territory. And even on the Compact's own level, 100 homes out of approximately 200,000 does not appear to be a particularly big sample. Moreover, there are questions of just how representative pilot participants drawn from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard can be of overall U.S. residential energy consumers. For example, nearly 44% of the participants had graduate degrees, while another 38% had college degrees. Nearly 44% of the participating households had annual incomes in excess of $100,000, while another 17% had incomes in the $75,000-99,999 range.

Nevertheless, the participating households clearly used their access to real-time information to significantly reduce their energy consumption. The Compact's program demonstrates that access to energy information can cause real changes in consumer behavior.

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