How home owners will react to smart meters that can help them manage energy consumption is still a big question mark. Will they largely ignore or embrace home energy management tools, and what kinds of gadgets and software will it take to win them over? Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), which has 3.8 million customers in the state, is looking to find out, and has filed for regulatory approval of a trial with 141,000 smart meters that will involve 23 different combinations of consumer-focused features and technologies for energy management. Options include alternative pricing plans, web interfaces, in-home displays, home area network control systems, and programmable thermostats. The utility, a unit of Exelon (s EXC), says that this is “the first smart meter project designed to comprehensively assess how customers will interact” with the technology.
There are other smart meter trials that are looking at consumer tools, like Florida utility FPL’s, but clearly, this is another good opportunity for all those consumer-focused smart energy management startups we’ve been covering (like these 10 here.) ComEd spokeswoman Rachel Gerds tells us that ComEd has already selected the consumer-focused vendors and companies that it will work with for the trial, but won’t disclose them at this time, and plans to announce the partners in the coming weeks. ComEd has previously worked with home area software maker Greenbox and Silver Spring Networks for a smart home exhibit in the Chicago museum of Science and Industry.
ComEd plans to use the results of the yearlong trial to find what technologies are the most effective at changing behavior and are the most used by consumers, presumably for the best price. ComEd says that information could potentially affect other utilities’ smart meter deployments as well as future smart meter customer education programs.
This is all information that companies across the energy ecosystem, not just utilities, are interested in. Both Google (s GOOG), which just made friends with utilities and, to a smaller extent, Microsoft (s MSFT), are moving into offering online tools to manage home energy consumption. GE (s GE) is conducting trials of its connected appliances — like fridges, oven ranges, dishwashers — that talk to utilities and need this type of information to produce smart products that consumers will actually buy and use to participate in energy management.
For ComEd, it’s not a done deal yet, and the utility is awaiting a decision from the Illinois Commerce Commission — a process that typically takes about six months. Gerds tells us that upon approval, installation of smart meters could begin as early as November 2009. ComEd is also seeking stimulus funds for the smart meter project.