Behavioral Programs Help Reduce Energy Use
Smart meters in combination with web access to information helped consumers reduce their use of electricity in Minnesota and Massachusetts
A recent report on the experience of four Minnesota electric co-ops suggests that utilities equipping their customers with smart meters plus software allowing them to gather detailed information about their energy use can see a reduction in the demand for electricity.
According to a report in Midwest Energy News, four rural electric co-ops in Minnesota saw reductions in demand of between 1.8% and 2.8% over a period of one to three years when customers had access to data via a program called MyMeter.
Separately, programs in Massachusetts, detailed in a June 2013 report, also showed energy savings when customers were alerted to how much electricity they use.
Susan Mazur-Stommen, director of behavior and human dimensions research for the American Council for an Energy-Efficienct Economy, said the findings in Minnesota, verified by a third-party, were significant because they add to the scant information currently available on how well behavioral programs actually work.
"The more data we have at a large scale, the more interested utilities are in using [behavioral strategies]," she told Midwest Energy News.
Mazur-Stommen was the co-author of an ACEEE report on utility-run behavior programs. In all, the authors found 281 behavior-based programs, but said many of them are "still in the pilot stage."
MyMeter available in 15 states
Jan Cook, vice president for client engagement with MyMeter, told GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com that the software is currently available in 15 states as well as several foreign countries. In all, 30 utilities have signed up, ranging from very small ones with as few as 1,400 customers to some of the biggest in the country. (Customers participated through their utility, not by signing up individually.)
The software, which is embedded in a utility's website, lets customers check on their energy use via a smartphone app or website. The software also allows consumers to get an alert when they're using more electricity than expected, and permits homeowners to compare their energy use with those in similar houses, MyMeter says.
More than half the states in the country now have some form of "rate decoupling" that separates utility earnings from the sale of electricity, Cook said, and utilities may be able to earn reimbursements by proving they are lowering the demand for electricity.
In Minnesota's case, the savings were verified by an independent evaluation firm, Illume Advising, and subsequently accepted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce so they could be counted toward state-mandated efficiency goals, Midwest Energy News said.
Cook said other utilities using MyMeter software also are collecting data about reductions in demand, but because they need at least a couple of years worth of information for documentation Minnesota is the only state so far with results that can be published. She expected additional reports in another six months.
More engaged customers save more electricity
Customers who showed more interest in logging in to the MyMeter website saved more energy than those who showed only marginal interest, Midwest Energy News said.
Users who got alerts but didn't log onto the site to get details reduced consumption by about 2.25%, but those who were "actively engaged" with the website for at least six months showed reductions of more than 4%, the report said.
For customers who used the system for one or two years, energy savings were 2.27% among those who used it for three years, savings dropped to 1.88%.
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