Getting Consumers Interested In Energy Efficiency Tricky

Focus on energy efficiency is intensifying as policy makers and leaders in the energy field seek to reconcile what are sometimes conflicting priorities of supplying the market with sufficient energy to sustain economic growth and reducing overall energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

But getting energy end-users involved in efficiency is “a little bit of an enigma”, said Vice-President of Smart Grid Solutions Jeremy Eaton at the Honeywell Users Group conference in Phoenix, Arizona this week. “No one’s actually cracked the nut yet.”

Energy consumers say that they want to use energy more efficiently, but spending patterns indicate otherwise. “When you look at the dollars they spend, people actually spend quite a bit more on comfort than they will on energy efficiency,” Eaton said.

image via Honeywell

image via Honeywell

Other priorities take precedence – namely comfort, convenience and control. Offering products with those three attributes, and incorporating efficiency into those products, may prove much more effective in actually reducing the amount of energy people consume.

“Comfort, convenience and control are the things that residential end-users really care about and are willing to pay for and are willing to do something different behaviorally to get,” Eaton said. “If you give customers a way to do these three, you get energy efficiency as a collateral benefit.”

Free Thermostat with Load Shed

Eaton used the example of a wi-fi enabled programmable thermostat that allows customers to manage their home heating and air-conditioning systems remotely via mobile device.

One means of using these two-way communicating thermostats to enhance energy efficiency is by putting them in “schedule mode”. This often entails settings designed to use less energy, perhaps by cooling or heating less during hours when residents are likely to be out of the home. Environmental Protection Agency estimates suggest that a programmable thermostat can save an average residential customer $180 a year on heating and cooling costs. And the ability to control it remotely, instead of standing in front of the console, may mean customers are more likely to use it.

“People already have internet, they already have broadband, they already have a smart phone,” Eaton said. “Let’s use the tools they already bought for other reasons and use those to give them comfort, convenience, and control, and we’ll get energy efficiency along with it.”

Data collected from HBS thermostats that are already in use show that both the percentage of time these thermostats are in schedule mode, and the percentage of time they are operated remotely, via device, are over 80%. “This solves the problem, but not by addressing it directly, Eaton said.

In addition to the energy saved through smart programming, HBS can use its thermostats to entice customers into participating in demand response events – reductions or shifts in electricity use during periods of peak demand, often to minimize consumption while rates are highest – on behalf of utilities as part of comprehensive demand response programs. Taking thousands of thermostats already out in the field and bringing them into demand response programs is also a strategy that Honeywell is pursuing.

“If you go to a homeowner and try to sell demand response, people say no, and penetration rates top out in the 15-20% range,” Eaton said. In lieu of direct recruitment, HBS has been giving its thermostat customers the option to use the financial incentives linked to demand response participation as a means of paying for the apparatus. “Giving them something they want in the first place, the number of people that will participate actively in these programs will go up.”

Another means of enhancing efficiency is by using the same social media technology that HBS plans to offer on a wider scale to buildings, campuses and other large facilities.

For more on this, see The Social Building: Using Social Media to Save Energy.

Residential customers can “friend their thermostats” – or receive real-time updates on its operations, HBS Service and Energy Offerings Director Colm Lennon told Breaking Energy. If the outside temperature goes up to 96 degrees and the air-conditioning system in a home is having to work much harder to cool the house, a customer has the option to receive an alert prompting him or her to modify temperature controls.

Beyond HVAC

There are few residential systems beyond heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) HVAC that are viable targets for efficiency enhancement. “We do have, as part of our road map, extending the ability from a management standpoint to other large loads in the home, most notably water heaters, pool pumps,” Eaton said. “Those are the things in the home beyond HVAC that are the big loads.”

But “the incremental marginal cost of putting a smart plug on a toaster or a light, it actually is just not a good investment”, Eaton said. “The tangential loads, those other things, there’s just not a good cost-benefit ratio of extending.”

breaking-energyEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Breaking Energy. Author credit goes to Conway Irwin.

Breaking Energy provides access to news, analysis, thought leadership, reference materials and discussions about the day’s most important energy market trends.