Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Digital: The New Wave in Energy Cost and Consumption Savings

I was welcomed into the new year, recently, by a gas bill at home that tripled in cost from November to December (higher usage months). There were some legitimate explanations for an increase, but this seemed a little ridiculous.

Unfortunate as it is, this seems to be a sign of the times. With utility prices - particularly gas prices - on the rise and an energy grid that seems to have a hard time keeping up with demand, it is becoming more and more of a concern for individuals' in their homes as well as business' in covering overhead costs. The New York Times reported last week that heating gas averages $3.50 per gallon statewide, making it extremely difficult for many people - particularly lower-income households - to afford to heat their homes.

Now, if only we could monitor electricity up-to-the-minute and adjust usage to lower cost and conserve energy with the touch of a button...

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department recently released the results of a year-long study that suggested households be equipped with digital utility monitoring equipment that could result in up to 15 percent decreases in cost and save up to $70 billion over the next 20 years in spending on power plants and the construction of up to 30 large coal-fired plants.

The study measured consumer behavior as much as it did new technologies that monitor energy use. Over 110 homes were equipped with digital thermostats and had electronic controllers attached to hot water heaters and clothes dryers. The residents were then given the ability to closely monitor and adjust their usage simply by going online. Based on energy prices, weather, and other factors, users had the ability to determine how much fluctuation they were willing to tolerate. As supply and demand in the electronic grid changed every 5 minutes, households and utility companies were able to trade small quantities of electricity (using software designed by I.B.M.) which resulted in small savings of money and energy. But, every little bit will add up!

While it may be a while until this type of monitoring and control becomes wide-spread, it is one unique step in the right direction of saving money (an average of 10% per household was reported during the course of the study) and creating a more energy-efficient grid as well as smarter consumers.

To read the article as posted by The New York Times, click here:

Photo: The New York Times

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