WASHINGTON - 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 consumers more involved in the process of using less energy, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

ACEEE based its findings on a review of 57 different residential sector feedback programs between 1974 and 2010. The new report concludes: “Advanced metering initiatives alone are neither necessary nor sufficient for providing households with the feedback that they need to achieve energy saving; however, they do offer important opportunities. To realize potential feedback-induced savings, advanced meters must be used in conjunction with in-home (or online) displays and well-designed programs that successfully inform, engage, empower, and motivate people.”

ACEEE found that three of the most promising approaches in the short- to medium-term include enhanced billing, daily/weekly feedback, and “off line” and web-based real-time feedback. However, programs that go beyond smart meters are few and far between. According to ACEEE, no U.S. utilities are currently providing the full range of needed services.

John A. “Skip” Laitner, director, economic and social analysis, ACEEE, said, “The bottom line here is very simple: Smart meters in and of themselves are just not ‘smart’ enough to get the job done for consumers and our economy. While advanced metering provides a useful tool, to save energy, cut consumer electric bills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, utilities need to use these advanced meters to provide consumers with information on their consumption in ways that grab consumers attention and encourage them to take action.”

Lead report author Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, formerly with ACEEE and now a senior research associate, University of Colorado’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, Boulder, Colo., said, “Rather than simply presenting consumers with information about the amount of energy consumed during the past month, enhanced billing programs in the short-term can provide a context in which consumers can evaluate their consumption levels and give expert recommendations about the best approaches for reducing energy consumption. People may be unhappy to get an electricity bill for $200, but it’s even worse to find out that your neighbors’ energy bills are half what you’re paying even though their homes are the same size. Through enhanced billing consumers can better evaluate their energy consumption practices, determine how energy is being wasted, and take action.”

Beyond a short-term move to enhanced billing programs, households could see even greater levels of savings through the application of more sophisticated programs that integrate utility-based advanced metering initiatives with online or in-home energy displays and tailored guidance regarding the highest-impact means of reducing energy waste.

When paired with an online program, households can increase their knowledge about how they are using energy. When combined with an in-home display, electricity consumers can witness the amount of energy that they are consuming in real-time, calculate the month-end impact of their current consumption patterns, and assess the impact of adopting new practices and more energy-efficient technologies. The average electricity savings associated with online services providing daily/weekly feedback is about 8 percent while real-time feedback has witnessed an average savings of about 9 percent per participating household.

For the complete report, go to www.aceee.org/e105.htm.

Publication date: 07/26/2010