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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

Posted on Aug 18 2014 by Scott Gibson

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 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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Aug 18, 2014 12:24 PM ET

How to operate your house
by flitch plate

Really, houses should come with instructional manuals and a user friendly dashboard of monitors, gauges and displays that not only show energy use, water use, accumulating fees and charges covering all substantive inputs (i.e fuel, power), but also show patterns of operations and activity, analyze these taking weather conditions into account and point to efficiency improvement opportunities.

On the other hand, the smart meter solutions are too little too late … MCP and other electric power utilities need to stimulate solutions with much higher fractions of return than 2.5% and while 4% is getting better, its not good enough. Combustion fuel efficiencies (propane, natural gas and furnace oil) also need to be monitored and managed. Room temperatures and cooling rates (i.e. heat loss) through out a building should be monitored and the intellgence used to advise on HVAC and Recovery Ventilator settings, room use, etc.

Aug 25, 2014 10:12 AM ET

Google even had an app, since
by Steven Behnke

Google even had an app, since discontinued due to 'lack of interest??', that could be dropped on their home/work page, also since discontinued...

It made it real easy to see what was going on with electric useage.

I know I can go to my co-op's page and look for the stuff now, but it's not nearly as easy to get to, and it becomes something forgotten in the busyness of the day.

Aug 25, 2014 10:58 AM ET

Edited Aug 25, 2014 11:14 AM ET.

DOE/GE/Utility Pilot
by Bob Smith

We recently completed a (2 year?) pilot funded by the Department of Energy (not a fan of that part since the DOE should not exist) partnered with GE and select local electric utilities.

It connected GE accessories to the smart meter via its Zigbee wireless connection and a wall wort that bridged to your home wifi network and thereby, the Internet.

Participants received, free (paid for by our lovely govt) one or more of the following:
- LCD in house display that reported various usage almost instantaneously.
- smart, connected thermostat.
- smart, connected appliances: fridge, washer, dryer.
- free iOS Apple app showing slightly less fresh usage and allowing remote control of the thermostat.

Most of the technology underlying these devices has been available for 10 years. It is surprising nobody has released truly user friendly, standards based devices like these before now. The hodge-podge of unreliable niche or wildly expensive previous devices does not count. Reasonably priced Internet connected thermostats are a start.

The energy management and behavioral opportunities from this functionality are like a drug. Now that the program is over, we feel withdrawal symptoms.

Not only did the instantaneous nature of the feedback make initial diagnosing and fine tuning our behavior very simple, but that display staring us in the face reinforced continued smart energy behavior. I was surprised my family did not reject it as a life controlling gadget - they actually embraced it because it was so simple.

It produced game/challenge like motivation to reduce more. We reduced our baseline (mostly idle) usage from 600+ watts to less than 150 watts. Just as importantly, it rubs your face in the power demands of oven and A/C usage. We now rarely use our full size oven since a countertop oven covers most of our needs at half or less power with dramatically less in home heat gain due to the speed of preheating. I suppose for long-cooking items there is some loss of efficiency due to poor countertop oven insulation.

The zinger was the flexible electricity rates married to this pilot by our utility (DTE): week day peak rates 50% higher than non-peak... and night/weekend rates 50% lower than non-peak. Occassional heavy usage days (realy hot summer days) at peak hours rate 1200%(!!!) of non-peak.

Unfortunately, not only is the pilot over but GE has abandoned the technology. (A cynic might tie them getting into the pilot funding to their cushy political ties to the present administration.) I believe some Southern California utilities are allowing homeowners to install (homeowner funded) similar gear that connects to the smart meter.

Thankfully, our utility has released an app that connects to their servers, showing some of the data but it is not instantaneous - it is a very weak approximation of the GE environment.

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