When one considers the components that make a smart grid smart – two way communication meters and energy usage feedback tools, among other things – it is important to note what will be most useful to consumers to maximize the grid’s potential for energy efficiency and saving money. A new study out by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) suggests that for maximum potential, utilities will need to “go beyond simple ‘smart meter’ initiatives to include a wide range of energy-use feedback tools that get consumers more involved in the process of using less energy.”
The study concludes, according to the ACEEE, that “advanced metering initiatives alone are neither necessary nor sufficient for providing households with the feedback that they need to achieve energy saving; however, they do offer important opportunities. To realize potential feedback-induced savings, advanced meters must be used in conjunction with in-home (or on-line) displays and well-designed programs that successfully inform, engage, empower, and motivate people.”
These types of feedback tools, such as the Microsoft Hohm service, are becoming increasingly common. The use of tools like this, in conjunction with smart meters, could drive consumers towards cutting their household electricity use as much as 12 percent while saving over $35 billion over the next 20 years. ACEEE based its findings on a review of 57 different residential sector feedback programs between 1974 and 2010. It found that three of the most promising approaches in the short- to medium-term include enhanced billing, daily/weekly feedback, and “off line” and Web-based real-time feedback.
“We now know promising approaches for using feedback in ways that motivate consumers to reduce energy use,” said Steven Nadel, executive director, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in a statement, “but we also know that the best approaches are not in widespread use. While the benefits of feedback are substantial, few households have yet to benefit. Instead of receiving useful feedback, most of today’s households simply receive the standard monthly energy bill. Making the potential energy savings a reality at both the household and national levels will require action on the part of utilities, policymakers, and individual consumers. In short, utilities must be made aware of the importance of sharing this information and sharing it in ways that are meaningful to energy consumers.”