Does direct feedback on energy use change consumer behavior?
I've yammered on about "synchronicity" - intuitive links between seemingly disparate events - but I've concluded, as the Twilight Zone theme song faded, that the smart grid is simply in land grab mode and there's just lots going on.
My new paradigm for intuitive links between seemingly disparate events is juxtaposition, which to me implies contrasts.
On Monday, a diverse lot of dozens upon dozens of vendors, environmental organizations, telecommunications firms, appliance makers, venture capitalists and retailers, under the imprimatur of The Climate Group and Google, sent a letter to President Barack Obama concerning one key driver for demand management.
(Sampling of the "undersigned": AT&T, Best Buy, Dow, eMeter, Environmental Defense Fund, General Electric, Google, Intel, Itron, Nokia, U.S. Green Building Council, Whirlpool, etc. I take this as proof that demand management is worth billions to many, disparate parties.)
"We are writing to ask that your Administration adopt the goal of giving every household and business access to timely, useful and actionable information on their energy use," the letter read, in part. "Studies and experience show that when people have access to direct feedback on their electricity use, they can achieve significant savings through simple behavioral changes."
Hold two pieces of that last statement in mind for a moment and we'll return to them: "studies and experience show" and "[consumers] can achieve significant savings."
The letter suggested that if all U.S. households saved 15 percent on their energy use by 2020, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would save consumers $46 billion on energy bills, or $360 per customer per year.
The letter suggested that consumers should have real-time data on the sources and causes of electricity consumption, pricing and pricing plans and information on generation sources. The letter also suggested how this might be achieved.
That was Monday. Yesterday, The Climate Group and Google convened a forum in Washington, D.C., titled "Power in Numbers: Unleashing Innovation in Home Energy Use," involving a number of heavy hitters, including a keynote by Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change (and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator). Though the forum could only be attended in person, there was an online question-and-answer component.
But I had to run.
A webinar was starting, titled, "Effects of In-Home Displays On Energy Consumption: A Summary of Pilot Results," delivered by two Ph.D. economists working for The Brattle Group and sponsored by the Peak Load Management Alliance, a nonprofit focused demand response and its role in creating efficient electricity markets.
The webinar's thesis question: does direct feedback from an in-home display affect consumer behavior?
Stated differently by the principal presenter, Ahmad Faruqui: "You cannot manage what you cannot measure."
Faruqui's basic answer was that a dozen pilot programs indicated the answer is "yes," and the average savings was 7 percent. But his colleague, Sanem Sergici, pointed out major caveats to the results of each pilot, such that many if not most did not rise to the scientific standard of reproducible results.
Going forward, utilities conducting "pilots" must determine whether they are determining proof of concept, staging a showcase or, for instance, demonstrating a new rate structure, Faruqui said. If the purpose of a pilot is, in fact, to determine whether consumers will use direct feedback on energy use by in-home displays to modify their behavior, that requires "scientifically designed experiments to yield reliable results," Faruqui intoned.
(Yes, it's a fact that consumers can achieve significant savings, but is "direct feedback on electricity use" the driver? Or are in-home displays simply physical reminders to curb energy use?)
Faruqui's conclusion: Utilities may "borrow" disparate industry data to make a point, but if they are mulling expensive programs and major capital decisions, they'd better spend the time and money in their own service areas to research the rationale for those decisions. Research is expensive, Faruqui added, but that cost is a tiny fraction of the cost of an ill-informed, major decision.
The phrase "studies show." helps make a convincing letter to the president. But it behooves us all to ensure that the data really is there to support the statement.
Intelligent Utility Daily