Want to Manage Your Energy Usage? How Badly?


There’s a lot of new startups, as well as big companies, making software tools, network hardware, smart meters and web sites that enable consumers to manage their energy consumption — Lucid Design Group, IBM, SmartSynch, eMeter, and Invensys Controls, to name just a few. And we’ve been wondering if — and how fast — electricity consumers are interested in using the new tools to manage their own energy consumption.

Well, according to a year-long study released this week from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, consumers are already prepared to tweak their energy usage based on price indicators. And consumers that used digital tools to manage their energy usage in the study were able to save 10 percent on their electricity bills.

The study only used a small group of participants, and in a controlled environment, so it’s just an early peek at the possibilities. Part of the study included 112 homeowners that used new electric meters, thermostats, water heaters and dryers connected to Invensys Controls home gateway gear and IBM software.

We’ve actually been wondering about this for some time, and a few months ago we asked execs at Lucid Design Group, IBM Ventures, and SmartSynch for their takes on how fast consumers will adopt this technology, and if homeowners actually want to digitally manage their energy consumption. Here were their thoughts:

Michael Murray, CEO of Lucid Design Group: “Adoption, in my view, is likely to be a two-step process: First, information only, then control capability. What I mean is that very few people are going to wake up and say, “I need to control my $40-a-month utility bill” with gadgets and smart panels. The first wave of adoption is likely to be information driven, not control driven.

On the whole, consumer awareness of the ability to consciously manage their utility use is still fairly low. Environmentally inclined individuals will first want to know how much they use and simple things they can do to reduce their usage. This information is going to be cheaper to get than control capabilities, so it is likely to come first.

Then, after a few years when everyone has adopted these information technologies, enough people will want to control their utilities that it will make controls useful and, we hope, affordable. Thus, I see Lucid as part of the first wave of interest in environmental
information. We are definitely not part of the control sphere.”

Steven Johnson, CEO SmartSynch: “A large percentage of consumers are ready and willing to adjust consumption patterns to help conserve energy. Without smart meters and other tools, it is difficult for consumers to know if their efforts are worthwhile. Utilities need to make it easy for consumers to participate by sharing data more frequently and constantly educating consumers on the benefits.

In a few years, once smart metering technology is fully deployed and consumers can become a producer of energy through conservation, the installation of solar panels or buying plug-in hybrids, etc., it will become commonplace for everyone to take steps to reduce energy consumption. They won’t even think about it.

We have to adjust consumer behavioral patterns, and it all begins with making energy usage data readily available. Changing habits requires time. If we continue to delay the deployment of smart metering technology and other tools, we are also delaying the long-term benefits — the primary one being the reduction of energy usage.”

Drew Clark, Director of Strategy, IBM Venture Capital Group: “My own feeling is that the technology leads behavior in this market. This is not just because it takes awhile for consumers to catch on to the value these solutions can bring, but we also tend to underestimate the challenge of distribution of the solution in the form of a useful product or service (packaging and delivery), and the challenge of creating new economic (pricing) and consumption (incentive) models for electric power that would need to accompany these new technologies and services.”

What are your thoughts? Do you use tools at home to manage your energy consumption?



Green energy is definitely the best solution in most cases. Technology like solar energy, wind power, fuel cells, zaps electric vehicles, EV hybrids, etc have come so far recently. Green energy even costs way less than oil and gas in many cases.


I completely agree with M. Murray. I just installed a TED monitor (theenergydetective.com). Now that I have data, I want control. I want more nuanced data too.

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