Is Enterprise Smart Grid better than the one you know?

We first wrote about the "Smart Grid" over two years ago, but in lieu of the recently failed attempts by Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm to produce energy saving software platforms that appeal to residential customers I'm starting to wonder if homeowners are going to even care about the smart grid anytime soon.  The CEO of Groom Energy (full disclosure: he's also my boss) had similar thoughts recently on the post Home Energy Apps, They're not yet Plug and Play:

Unless it works out of box with a plug, home networking system integration projects are only for serious DIYers.  Not to say there hasn’t been progress with early smart meter rollouts to the home, but the facts are today its still very early.  Unless the utility pays for and implements the early home networking apps on the backs of these initial rollouts, adoption in the home will continue to move very slowly.

But in my opinion, it's not just the lack of "plug and play" that keeps homeowners away from serious home energy management...I'm beginning to believe (and really always have) that most homeowners just don't care about their energy consumption enough to actively manage it!

As Google and Microsoft have shown (and as we've been noticing behind the scenes here at Mapawatt), it's tough to find the right combination of tools that appeal to the majority of homeowners.  We touched on this topic on our post "Living with a Smart Meter" where we quoted someone who has been doing just that:

The surprising lesson in all of this is that my smart meter has almost nothing to do with any of these lessons.  The data I rely upon was available before my smart meter was installed and the monthly summaries are still the most useful data available for my purposes.  So where is the consumer benefit from smart meters?  As far as I can tell all the benefits are flowing to PG&E, but my rates are still going up.

Don't worry though, I'm not thinking about giving up on residential energy conservation, I'm just wondering on the best way to approach it that would appeal to the most residential energy consumers.   I'm not sure if the "smart grid" is the right way (not that it doesn't have value, but we may need to stop marketing it to homeowners).  The concept of the "enterprise smart grid", or energy monitoring and management applications for organizations that consume a lot of energy makes perfect sense, because they usually have a person (or a team of people) who works 40 hours a week to reduce that organization's energy bills; which sometime are in the millions of dollars!

But do homeowners have the time or do they even spend enough on energy to want to spend any time saving it?  What do you think?


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I agree with all of the points above. By nature, we react to crises better than being just proactive on our own. Higher energy prices would be the crisis we would react to by trying to reduce our energy usage. I would like to see some data on how OPOWER's program is working with utilities using social norms to get people to act. "Your neighbors use half as much power than you use. Energy Hog!" From the research I've done, social norms are a powerful catalyst.
ckmapawatt's picture
I wonder how long trying to rely on social norms will work? How many pieces of paper will it take that say "You're using more energy than your neighbor" before people start ignoring, and even start getting annoyed by them? Remember when South Park had the episode about the "Smug Alert" from all the hybrid drivers..
"Smug Alert" was awesome ;) There is also a certain population which will react in the opposite direction when presented with the Opower type information: I think you're right that in the micro sense, Opower-type leaflets may start to wear off, or get annoying. But if it and other things can truly start moving societal norms, that might not wear off as quickly. There's already a fairly deep-seated "green is good" meme - you know it, because they market it ... it's a pity that it's usually just greenwashing, rather than really providing people with information and opportunities allowing them to make a real difference. I still think many more people would if they were provided with the right opportunities.
Eric: The PG&E smart meters provide 1 hour granularity for electricity and 1 day for natural gas. But I think that there is a delay (i.e. you can't get real time hour by hour usage data - you get to see the previous days data in a batch). At least that's what I've been told - PG&E didn't give me a smart meter because I have solar, and the smart meters seem not to be able to handle that. On the general question of how to motivate homeowners - it seems hard. The CFL people tried hard with prominent labeling showing how much each bulb would save across its lifetime. This added up to big numbers (like $50), but still don't seem to convince a lot of people. I have a few theories on that: 1) Many people assume that the numbers were standard marketing lies. 2) Early CFLs were pretty bad (less light, poor colour temperature, long warm-up time). Brand image is still tainted. 3) Too many people do short term budgeting (either from ignorance - this stuff is not taught in schools, or necessity - living paycheque to paycheque). $0.50 (or less) for an incandescent is seen as a better buy than $5 (or more) for a CFL.
I agree- most people just want to get ggod advice once on whether to go with an energy saving feature or not, they want to know the upfront cost and the average savings/payback. Solution and direction??? Here's simply what we need to do. Demand that our respective levels of government get serious about mandating stricter codes and offering bigger incentives on the technologies that work and that offer the biggest bang for the buck. Without a doubt that is Geothermal Heating and Cooling as the backbone of new buildings of any size followed by Solar panels (both photovoltaic and thermal.... In that order! First, save thousands on getting rid of fossil fuel heating and straight electrical a/c. This would be great for the world global warming crisis and would ease the load on electrical energy demands (especially in summer). Solar thermal hot water heater generally have excess summer heat which is vented and therefore lost. Instead, re-route excess heat back into the ground. This raises the efficiency of the geothermal system substantially by giving higher entering water temperatures to the heat pump during the heating season. The higher upfront costs associated with these technologies is preventing builders and consumers alike from taking advantage because they focus on immediate short term benefits and returns. Even so, returns on geothermal heating and cooling (groundsource or geo-exchange) are often immediate in terms of more than covering the interest costs of financing. Like all other BIG ideas that transform the world, it takes government leadership and long term committment. Sadly, I see too much apathy. Few people take the time to write or protest.
ckmapawatt's picture
Great points. The fact that the higher up front costs deter so many people probably wont change until energy prices reach the pain threshold for most consumers.
Here's a dumb question, probably "smart meter 101" - do any of these "smart meters" allow the customer to see high-time-resolution usage data? I suppose it depends on the actual meter, but for example, the big PG&E rollout - did those give the customer any more data on a timely basis or was it just that they allowed time of use billing, AMR, etc? I think that a digital meter, built with an open communication standard that lets customers view realtime or near-realtime data, would pique a lot of interest... people may not care enough to go buy a TED 5000, but I still think that if you can plop the data in front of them, at least some would be interested. I suppose it may still take a new in-home device to receive it; it'd be a fair bit of bandwidth for 1-minute or 5-minute-resolution data to make the round trip from meter to utility to webserver back to the customer's browser...

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