There’s a whole new class of products and services to guide how homeowners’ use energy with a goal to reduce how fast their electric meters spin. These solutions – Internet dashboards, glowing orbs, countertop displays, even online games – enable us to see and understand the patterns of our energy use. Lots of data and alternative approaches to visualizing that data.
Residential use makes up nearly forty percent of all electricity consumption in Massachusetts; lighting, appliances, computers and monitors, air conditioning, charging smart phones, all of it. At the same time, the cornerstone of Gov. Deval Patrick’s state energy policy is “Efficiency: Our First Fuel.” So, if homeowners can get effective guidance to reduce consumption by choosing the right electric-powered devices and making better decisions about how we use them, that’s a good thing.
It has surprised me, as a marketing professional in the clean energy sector, that I have never purchased any of these devices. Seeing and understanding my household’s energy use interested me as a concept, but never got me to an emotional purchase point. Apparently I’m not alone. One venture capitalist recently told an audience of software developers interested in clean energy applications, “The last thing we need is another home energy dashboard.”
Then our town won a spot as one of seventeen communities to participate in Solarize Massachusetts, a state-sponsored program with financial incentives to encourage adoption of small scale solar electric (photovoltaic or “PV”) projects. This gave us the wherewithal to put solar panels on our own roof at a reasonable cost with a short payback period.
In October, the first month that our 8.5 kilowatt array was on-line, our electric bill dropped to $47 from $153 in the same period a year ago. Now over two months, we cut our electric bill a total of $195 and reduced carbon emissions by over 1000 lbs. Not bad. (Note that these numbers didn’t figure in weather. This fall has been cloudy, so our system didn’t generate as much electricity as was possible.)
Something else changed. I got interested in exactly how much electricity the solar panels were producing in comparison to what our household was using at that moment. If our electricity production was more than we needed, did that mean it was a good time to run the dishwasher or dry some clothes? I was chomping at the bit to see the personal information web page that our solar provider makes available.
Ultimately I was disappointed in the type and display of information, and that it wasn’t tied to any realtime usage information. Better than nothing, but not a complete picture. So, now I’m researching the different options to pull it all together in a way that’s easy to get my head around.
Solar PV isn’t necessarily the most economic answer to residential electricity demand and reducing greenhouse gases. Government incentives are still important. But it is kind of cool and seems – at least to this clean energy wonk – to have the power to light a fire in peoples’ desire to know exactly what’s going on in their houses. Solar PV and efficiency improvements make good bedfellows.