Smart meters not enough to reduce residential power use and electric bills, study finds


Steven Nadel,
Executive Director,
Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — July 1, 2010 – Consumers could cut their household electricity use as much as 12 percent and save $35 billion or more over the next 20 years if U.S. utilities go beyond simple “smart meter” initiatives to include a wide range of energy use feedback tools that get them more involved in the process of using less energy, according to a new report from the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

From a review of 36 residential sector feedback programs between 1995 and 2010, the report found that average savings varied from almost 4 percent to 12 percent, depending on the feedback type, with indirect feedback provided after the occurrence of consumption in the range 4 to 8 percent and direct feedback in real time in the range 9 to 12 percent.

In particular the average annual savings with enhanced billing, including household specific information and advice, was 3.8 percent, with estimated feedback, including web-based energy audits with information on ongoing basis, was 6.8 percent, and with daily/weekly feedback, including household specific information and advice was 8.4 percent.

In the direct category, the average annual savings with information to premise level was 9.2 percent, but with information down to appliance level is increased to 12 percent.

According to the report, feedback is proving a critical first step in engaging and empowering consumers to thoughtfully manage their energy resources. Regardless of the actions taken, some types of feedback appear to be more effective than others in generating more substantial energy savings, and the level of savings also depends on the level of household participation. However, feedback can be enhanced through the use of motivational elements such as the use of goal setting, commitments, competitions, and social norms.

Advanced metering initiatives (AMI) represent just one of several means of providing households with feedback, despite the increasing association of feedback with AMI technologies, the report notes. Indeed, feedback can be provided by a variety of different means and mechanisms that don’t require advanced metering technologies.

To realize potential feedback-induced savings, advanced meters must be used in conjunction with in-home (or on-line) displays and well-designed programs that successfully inform, engage, empower, and motivate people.

The report, which notes that as yet no U.S. utilities are currently providing the full range of needed services, proposes that the best feedback approaches are likely to be incremental in nature and will “evolve” as technologies become more sophisticated. Given the wide range of available feedback technologies and the ongoing research on new feedback devices, automation technologies and in-home energy management systems, it is currently impossible to determine what future feedback initiatives are likely to look like or which devices and approaches are likely to generate the most savings.

In the meantime, utilities and policymakers should act now to ensure that U.S. households receive needed feedback by providing all households with enhanced billing in the short term and real time feedback (in conjunction with smart meter deployment) in the medium term.

“We now know promising approaches for using feedback in ways that motivate consumers to reduce energy use, but we also know that the best approaches are not in widespread use,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the ACEEE. “While the benefits of feedback are substantial, few households have yet to benefit. Making the potential energy savings a reality at both the household and national levels will require action on the part of utilities, policymakers, and individual consumers.”

The report also comments that with many of the findings limited by small sample sizes and limited data, further research on energy savings from feedback are needed, particularly studies with large sample sizes that examine savings over periods of a year or more. Further, it would be useful to understand regional differences in feedback.