Interesting news from a new study of 112 homes in the Seattle area that shows a 10% reduction in home energy bills through the use of "smart grid" technology.
The study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, and reported on CNet News this morning, says its GridWise Project not only saves consumers money - - about 10% on average, according to the report, but it eases the strain on local power grids, as well.
Smart Grids can automatically lower the settings on home appliances like heaters and washers and dryers, triggered by signals sent by utility companies over the power grid. For example, smart grids can turn the heat off on a dryer in the last few minutes of use, saving money and saving energy, with no loss in productivity.
"The trial showed that consumers are willing to have utilities remotely dial down the appliances to lessen the load on the power grid and reduce their consumption, said Rob Pratt, program manager at Pacific Northwest National Lab, at a teleconference on the study results. "We could save $70 billion in investments in the next 20 years by offsetting construction of new infrastructure that would otherwise be needed to meet load growth."
Pratt noted that Smart Grid technology would also provide more reliability to the power grid, allowing utilities to isolate problems more easily. Clean power sources such as wind and solar, which pose technical challenges because they don't supply a steady stream of electricity, can be better incorporated with upgraded equipment, the study also found.
Homeowners that took part in the study used a gateway device that was powered by systems integration software from IBM that enabled energy companies and customer homes to communicate with one another. The device relied on a broadband Internet connection to receive pricing information from the utility, which is transmitted wirelessly to a smart thermostat and a smart meter.
Study participants could compare the costs of keeping the thermostat on for 10 minutes or turning it off. Pratt says that once consumer see how much money they can save by using Smart Grid, they can't wait to save even more.
CNet cited a study participant who said that he relied almost exclusively on pre-set levels and automatic changes, except for a few occasions where the temperature in the home dropped more than the people in his household was willing to accept.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, we accepted what the system was offering us," Jerry Brous, a 67-year-old Seattle-area homeowner, told CNet. "You learn how much you will tolerate."
The report said that one of Brous' favorite features was the ability to control his house's climate remotely over any Internet connection, allowing him to turn on the hot water heater or heat before returning from a trip.
One impediment to widespread Smart Grid usage is cost. To implement the technology in a single home can cost a utility company between $500 and $1,000. But like most technologies, Pratt says, costs should come down as demand grows for the technology.
With savings of 10% to even 15% for Smart Grids, and the chance to help reduce energy and help the environment, people should be lining up for the service.