Energy | Ecotrope

Does knowledge diminish power (usage)?

Ecotrope | July 26, 2011 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:36 p.m.

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Installing a smart meter on your home puts you on a two-way street with the power grid and can help you decide when it's cheapest to run appliances. I'm curious: Does knowledge from the smart meter actually reduce power usage?

Installing a smart meter on your home puts you on a two-way street with the power grid and can help you decide when it's cheapest to run appliances. I'm curious: Does knowledge from the smart meter actually reduce power usage?

The U.S. Department of Energy just released the results of a survey of 500 people in Texas who were given smart meter display units showing them detailed information about their power usage.

The result: 71 percent said they changed their electricity use based on the added knowledge of their power usage; 93 percent said they were satisfied with the unit; and 97 percent said they would continue using it (significant perhaps because of the push back against smart meters for privacy reasons).

The DOE wasn’t clear whether people changed their behavior specifically to use less power or save money. But 83 percent reported turning off their lights at night or when they weren’t in a room, and 51 percent reported adjusting the temperature on their thermostat.

I’d imagine sometimes knowledge might only change power usage to a different time of day (when it’s cheaper) without reducing the amount used. If they know it’s cheaper to run appliances at night, people might actually wind up using appliances more often.

Regardless, there is one way that smart meters definitely save energy – in meter reading transportation. This I learned from talking to Mark Osborn, a smart grid manager for Portland General Electric, whose 800,000 customers all have had smart meters for six months to a year:

“The only difference between these and another meter is these have a small radio built into them so they’re able to communicate. So we avoid the emissions and costs of meter readers driving around to people’s houses. These meters all report how much energy is being used through a radio system, so we’re able to avoid the hassles of trying to get out to meters.”

Osborn said PGE’s smart meters aren’t doing all the fancy tricks smart meters can do – such as delivering real-time data on power prices and usage to a smart phone – but they have that potential.

Are you using a smart meter at your home? If so, has it reduced your power usage?

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