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Keeping Energy Use Down with the Joneses

A few utility companies have been trying pilot programs that show customers how their energy use compares with their that of their neighbors. It...

A few utility companies have been trying pilot programs that show customers how their energy use compares with their that of their neighbors. It turns out this peer pressure is proving successful:
National Grid, the electricity and gas provider to several Northeastern states, last week announced the expansion of its Home Energy Report program, which delivers energy-use statements to homeowners showing how they stack up against their neighbors in similar-size homes.The announcement follows a successful pilot program, started in October 2009, with a test group of 50,000 customers. Energy use (both electric and gas) dropped by 1 percent for this group since the pilot began, compared to a control group that did not receive the report, according to Monica Ibrahim, National Grid's program manager.
SMUD, the publicly owned utility company in Sacramento, tested a similar program on 35,000 customers and found it reduced electricity use by more than 2 percent.This is great news. One percent may sound small, but these programs are easy to implement. It's not hard to print energy use information on a bill and it changes people's behavior.And the positive effects of this transparency and peer pressure will only get stronger. One component of this much-ballyhooed "smart grid" are home "smart meters" that allow for higher-resolution energy monitoring. So instead of getting information on how your energy use compares to that of your neighbors every month, you could get it hour-by-hour online.


Sacramento scored stimulus funds to pay for 600,000 smart meters and they're not the only ones. Stimulus money will pay for about 18 million of these smart meters nationwide.Photo (cc) from Flickr user the tahoe guy. Diagram from The Sacramento Bee.
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