Making SmartGridCity Smarter

As a Boulder resident, I am loosely participating in the SmartGridCity project run by our local electric utility, Xcel Energy. I say “loosely” because the extent of my participation has been the few times I logged into my online account to see a more granular view of my energy consumption. On this website, I could see into my daily energy usage in as small as 15 minute increments. I will admit that this was an interesting experience as it gave me a better idea of what devices in my home caused my electricity usage to spike. For example, I saw a huge jump in kilowatt hours every morning when I took a shower, most likely due to the energy needed to power my electric water heater. Since that water heater resides in a closet, it is basically out of sight and out of mind when I think about my electricity consumption.

While I found this service of the SmartGridCity project to be interesting and informative, it fell short of impacting my behavior and thought patterns with regards to how I use electricity. I wanted to see my electricity usage in real time, so I was consistently made aware of the impact by behaviors had on my electricity bill. Therefore, I decided to fill out a survey to qualify for an In-Home Smart Device trial, so I could see my energy usage at all times without needing to log-in to a website. Unfortunately, my home did not qualify and my interest in SmartGridCity began to wane.

Much has been written about the poor execution of the SmartGridCity project, primarily how Xcel has been passing the cost of the project on to its customers by including it in their monthly bills well before the cost saving benefits of the program had been demonstrated. While this is an obvious concern, I believe that a greater focus on educating its customers about how to use the technologies of SmartGridCity would have helped to make the project more successful. By providing more tools to help its customers monitor and manage their energy consumption and understand the project, the backlash over increased rates may have been less severe.

Currently, the project is focused on getting customers to enroll in off-peak pricing plans, in which customers pay less per kilowatt hour during time periods when overall electricity demand on the grid is lower, or tiered pricing plans, in which customers pay more per kilowatt hour after they have reached a certain monthly threshold for electricity usage. While I applaud Xcel for helping its customers save money and attempting to reduce demand during peak hours, these incentive plans do little in terms of utilizing smart grid technology to educate consumers on their energy consumption. In the next phase of the project, I hope to see more installations of In-Home Smart Devices and an expansion of customer education programs to help make the residents of SmartGridCity smarter about how they use electricity.

Article by Brian Davis, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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