Smart Home Dividend: Utility Finds Connected Homes Conserve More Energy

Smart meters and connected home energy devices are fun and flashy, but can they actually help homeowners save energy and money? One utility company says they do.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 16, 2015

In January 2015, a gas and electric company launched a pilot program in one Massachusetts city to leverage its newly installed residential smart meter infrastructure. Ratepayers were given the opportunity to install a smart home energy management system in order to monitor and control their energy usage as part of a demand-response program. As of August, those who opted to install the system have saved 20 percent more energy during peak demand than those who did not.

Starting in 2013, National Grid, an electricity and gas utility that serves communities in the northeastern United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, began installing smart meters, made by Itron, at the homes of its residential ratepayers in Worcester. CEIVA Energy, a company that sells ZigBee- and Wi-Fi-based hardware to help consumers interact with and control devices such as smart thermostats and remote-controlled electrical plugs inside their homes, was brought on to serve a number of functions. The firm provided customer outreach to educate consumers on the pilot, which is called Smart Energy Solutions, and to also provide its Entryway demand response management platform to Worcester ratepayers who opted to have it installed—at no charge, thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.

A monitor shows the real-time energy consumption of a Fench press.
The two-year pilot is designed to entice ratepayers to reduce their energy use through special pricing plans and a demand-response program. Rates increase slightly during the evening hours when day-to-day usage is highest. Then, during periods of peak demand, which generally occur during heat waves, the rates increase significantly (around five-fold) for a few hours. The utility also launched a system that alerts ratepayers the day before these peak demands are expected to occur. Customers are encouraged to reduce the demand on the grid during these peak-energy events, by raising the thermostat settings for their air conditioners and avoiding the use of any appliances that consume significant amounts of electricity. (Even if they're not interested in saving energy during these periods, ratepayers might be motivated to dial down their consumption to lessen the spike in their energy bills during peak-demand events.)

Residents have four options for participating in the demand-response program. Option one is to simply create an online profile with National Grid and then opt in to receive e-mails, text messages or phone calls regarding upcoming peak-demand events. It is up to these ratepayers to manually change their thermostats or take other actions to reduce energy consumption during such events, which generally last for a few hours in the middle of hot summer days.

Option two entitles a ratepayer to the CEIVA Energy Homeview device, which is the foundation of the CEIVA Energy Entryway demand response management system. This device contains both a Wi-Fi radio (to connect to a home's Wi-Fi network) and a ZigBee radio (to connect to the home's smart meter). It features a digital display that can be configured so the homeowner can see both the amount of energy being consumed and the rate, in cents per kilowatt-hour, being charged (when not viewing that data, the homeowner can use the screen to display personal digital photos). By situating the Homeview device in a prominent place within the home, such as on a kitchen counter, the homeowner can quickly and easily view the household energy consumption by hour, by day or by current cost per kilowatt-hour. This encourages residents to be mindful of their energy usage and to take actions, such as turning off lights or appliances that are not needed at any given time.

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