More and more, we are seeing attention in the press about calculating personal energy consumption and finding ways to reduce it. With the launch of new gadgets which enable people to measure their energy use, it seems that technology is catching up with the new awareness of how to reduce our impact on the environment by cutting power consumption.
A year-long US government study has recently been released which shows that empowering businesses and homeowners to monitor their own electricity use is the most powerful way to highlight consumption and prompt people to take personal responsibility for lowering the amount they use. Over time, the report suggests that this could lead to a reduced need for building power plants.
Making savings in cost and environmental impact
The results of the research project undertaken by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department showed that if households have digital tools to set temperature and price preferences, the peak loads on utility grids could be reduced by up to 15% a year.
Over a 20-year period, this could save $70 billion on spending for power plants and infrastructure, and avoid the need to build the equivalent of 30 coal-fired plants.
The project looked at consumer behavior and found that people responded well to having the ability to calculate their own energy use, prompting them to take responsibility of a personal level for reducing consumption overall. The study showed that it’s not simply a matter of providing the right technology to check power usage, but a psychological shift in people’s attitudes that can make a positive change.
In the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, 112 homes were equipped with digital thermostats, and computer controllers were attached to water heaters and clothes dryers. These controls were connected to the internet.
The people taking part in the study could then go online and make decisions about what they were prepared to do to make changes. These included cutting thermostat temperatures, and other small changes. The response was fantastic, with people actively making changes to reduce fuel consumption.
In this way, people took responsibility for managing their own power usage, prompting a series of positive behaviors across the group.
“I was astounded at times at the response we got from customers,” said Robert Pratt, a staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the program director for the demonstration project. “It shows that if you give people simple tools and an incentive, they will do this. Each household doesn’t have to do a lot, but if something like this can be scaled up, the savings in investments you don’t have to make will be huge, and consumers and the environment will benefit.”
The households in the demonstration project on average saved 10% on their monthly utility bills. The only downside to the project is that the technology behind it won’t be readily available for a while.
“What they did in Washington is a great proof of concept, but you’re not likely to see this kind of technology widely used anytime soon,” said Rick Nicholson, an energy technology analyst at IDC, a research firm.