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Paving the Way to Smarter Energy Use: Why Google.org is Supporting Policy Reforms

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In recent years, we've seen big changes in the way we watch TV, use phones, read, and listen to music. But how we use electricity hasn't changed much in decades.
What if instead of a monthly bill we had access to more real-time and actionable information about our electricity consumption? What if our appliances, air conditioners, and lights adjusted automatically to use energy more efficiently and save money? If we did this in every home it would help improve the reliability of the grid and save billions of dollars.
The technology is already available to make this happen today. Smart meters, which make it easier to measure real-time household energy consumption, are expected to reach the majority of American homes by 2015. Programmable thermostats and smart appliances—refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances connected to the Internet and controllable by computer or phone—can give consumers a better ability to decide how and when to use energy at home. There is huge potential to lower costs and reduce energy consumption—studies show that just having access to data about their energy use helps consumers reduce that use by up to 15 percent.
The challenge is that the rules governing electricity distribution were written for last century’s grid. That’s why Google.org is giving a $2.65 million grant to the Energy Foundation to support policy reforms that will lead to more intelligent energy use. The effort will focus on three fundamental areas:
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  • Smarter electricity rates that encourage consumers to be more efficient, shift their electricity use to times when it’s cheaper and produce their own on-site energy;
  • Access to electricity markets for consumers and other businesses so they can be compensated for cutting energy use at key times;
  • Open data policies that give customers access to their own energy data, which they can use or share with third parties they select, promoting better energy management tools and services.
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These policy reforms, coupled with the new technologies now being deployed on a large scale, can empower consumers to make smarter energy choices, improve real-time management of the electricity grid, and help facilitate more renewable energy, all while lowering overall costs.
We hope this grant will help catalyze change and look forward to seeing progress in the years to come.
Michael Terrell is Senior Policy Counsel for Energy & Sustainability at Google. \n
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy. \n


Original smart appliance image via Shutterstock.\n
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