Pecan Street and CCET launch 18-month electricity pricing and customer behavior trial


Grant Fisher,
Pecan Street data
group director
Austin, TX, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — March 20, 2013 – The Pecan Street project and the Center for Commercialization of Electric Technologies (CCET) are launching a trial of the comparative impact and benefits of new pricing models and other tools for shifting electricity use away from periods where the electric grid is strained.

In this new trial, described as a national first, the focus will be on the comparative effectiveness of time-of-use electric rates, default settings (a tool touted by behavioral economists such as Nudge co-authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein) and text message appeals during critical grid conditions (such as those that occur on some hot summer afternoons).

During the study, participants will be presented with different test configurations:

  • One group of residents will test a time-of-use electric rate that includes a discounted electric rate during periods of peak wind generation and a higher electric rate during summer afternoons when the ERCOT electric grid in Texas is experiencing demand driven strains.
  • A second group of residents will receive a free programmable thermostat that comes with a default setting optimized for energy conservation. Residents will be free to change the thermostat setting away from its default setting without any restrictions.
  • A third group of residents will receive a text message appeal to reduce electricity use during periods when the ERCOT electric grid in Texas is experiencing demand driven strains. Researchers will evaluate the comparative effectiveness not just of message content but also when the message is sent.

Researchers working at Pecan Street’s Pike Powers Laboratory and Center for Commercialization will also work on methods for modulating electricity use of specific products, such as electric vehicles, in response to pricing and grid condition signals delivered over the Internet and utility electric meters.

Participants in the pricing trial component of the research will continue to receive their regular electric rates and monthly bills and will not incur any additional energy costs by participating.  Pecan Street will provide each participant access to a web portal that compares their actual bill to a simulated bill based on the experimental pricing models.  If their energy behavior results in a lower simulated bill, the customers will be paid the difference.

“When it comes to variable pricing, the financial benefit has to be as real as possible,” said Pecan Street data group director Grant Fisher, who is managing the field trial.  “We can’t just tell people they would have saved money. They need real time feedback that quantifies their financial savings.”

The trial will be conducted from March 2013 through October 2014.

The trial will build on the findings from the last two years, in which more than 500 homes in Austin, including a concentration of 250 homes in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood, have been participating in Pecan Street’s research of how people use electricity, natural gas and water on a minute-to-minute basis down to the appliance level and how utility system reliability, carbon emissions, and customer needs and preferences are impacted by the introduction of emerging consumer products such as home energy monitoring systems, green building, electric vehicles, natural gas applications, rooftop solar panels and in-home energy storage.

According to a statement this research has resulted in the world’s deepest database on customer energy use, the nation’s highest residential concentration of electric vehicles, and the world’s first network of electric smart meters installed and operated for research purposes.

For more on this work, see the article “Data driven insights from the nation’s deepest ever research on customer energy use” by Brewster McCracken et al in Smart Energy International Issue 1 2013, p 36.