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What will convince people to actually reduce their home energy consumption and engage with new smart meters that are being rolled out? The folks leading ComEd, including the Chicago utility’s President and COO Anne Pramaggiore, want to know. At the Cleantech Investor Summit on Wednesday Pramaggiore said that in April ComEd would be starting a pilot project with 8,000 customers that would be getting four different pricing structures and various technology options by which to monitor and manage their energy consumption. Silver Spring Networks will be providing the network infrastructure and Tendril will be supplying its home energy dashboards for the pilot, which Pramaggiore called “unique in the country.”
ComEd already started installing its planned 130,000 smart meters in nine towns in Northern Illinois starting in November 2009. During the upcoming pilot, customers will be offered different pricing structures with off-peak pricing options to see what price at what time of day results in the biggest drop in energy consumption. In addition ComEd will be offering customers different ways to access to their energy consumption, like through the web, or through an in-home energy display. In the third quarter of this year Pramaggiore says she thinks ComEd will start collecting data from the project.
For ComEd, the pilot is a way to find out what their 3.8 million customers will want, and how they will respond to the new smart meters. Pramaggiore told me after her talk at the Summit on Wednesday that she expects to see a spectrum of different needs among customers, from the early adopter tech fan that wants a high-end in-home display, to a consumer that reacts solely to a more granular online bill. “We want to find out what moves customers,” said Pramaggiore.
For Silver Spring it’s another win for their Internet Protocol-based technology. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company, which is one of several greentech firms considered likely candidates for an IPO this year, has already done deals with Florida Light & Power, PG&E (s PCG), American Electric Power and Pepco Holdings, among others. On the panel at the Summit, Silver Spring CEO Scott Lang described the company’s work as, “We help utilities cross a bridge that has never been crossed before.”
For Tendril, the win is a big deal, as it’s one of the few that the company has been public about. Tendril has a deal with Houston-based utility Reliant and maintains that it has many more utility partners in the works (it’s holding discussions with Tucson utility Tucson Electric Power, or TEP, for example). Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck told us via email that Tendril was one of more than 40 firms that competed for the ComEd project.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the pilot will be what Silver Spring’s Lang spoke on during the panel: education. Lang said what happened in Bakersfield (where residents in the region ended up suing PG&E last year over heightened rates that they claimed were due to smart meters) was a lesson that the industry needs to get more information about smart meters in front of customers as soon as possible.