If you’re interested in selling home energy management systems, you’ve probably come across this happy stat: Having immediate feedback of one’s electricity use through an energy monitoring system can save 5 percent to 15 percent in electricity costs.
Only some experts are questioning what comes later: Do people with energy monitoring systems continue to both monitor their electricity usage—and continue take actions to save energy? Or is having an energy monitoring system like going on a diet or starting an exercise regimen: You start out strong for a week or two but then slip back into old habits.
The concept of energy monitoring alone doesn’t work, says Alex Laskey, president of Opower, which works with utilities on communicating with their customers. “People don’t want real-time data. What they want are insights and analysis that help them save.”
That’s what Opower does for utilities by providing customers home energy reports via mail, a web portal and by mobile phone—including energy-saving recommendations, tips, and how they compare to others in their areas.
Providing such recommendations appears as the future of energy monitoring. And don’t discount the power of comparisons with neighbors and others. People like to know where they stand, some will want to save more energy than others, and most people like fitting into a community. There is a real social element, akin to peer pressure, that can help drive energy efficiency behavior—which data alone cannot provide.
Does this mean death to the boring old kilowatt hour (kWh), which for most people is as foreign as the metric system?
“We’re not going to realize efficiency’s potential until we get a measurement that’s as easy to understand as buying gasoline,” says economist Bill Miller of energy efficiency company Sentech and formerly of Pacific Gas & Electric. “When was last time you argued with gas attendant over the pump’s flow meter? I think we need to bound the old method and move onto new territory.”
Or just put that boring, hard-to-grasp energy usage information in a more compelling perspective. One of the best examples of this I’ve seen was in a home energy monitoring system by Gridpoint, which has since turned its attention toward selling utilities smart grid technology. The system in green builder Frank Laskey’s home in upstate New York doesn’t just provide information on how much energy he has saved in kilowatt hours, but in the carbon equivalent of cars taken off the road (though the numbers are still too big to wrap my mind around) and microwaving x-amount of pizzas (Bingo! I understand that, and I don’t microwave pizza!)
Still, it’s a measurement I can relate to. And that’s powerful.