Are you ready for the Smart Grid?

March 27, 2012

If Americans were given the chance to monitor their energy use in real time, how many would take the opportunity? You might be surprised.

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A few years ago, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department installed digital thermostats and computer controllers in 112 homes to see if consumers would set and maintain the most energy efficient home heating and cooling settings with the help of streaming data. More people participated actively than the researchers had expected. In the project, The New York Times reports, households saved on average 10 percent on their energy costs.

So-called Smart Grid technology merges digital communications and processing that turns the thermostat control over to computers and smartphones. Imagine people in different rooms of their homes, fighting temperature wars with their family members, readjusting settings on the fly on their smartphones.

Get ready for the Smart Grid revolution

More and more research is underway across the country to speed progress on the Smart Grid. Two universities in California were granted $2 million by the California Energy Commission to help support research and train professionals for clean energy careers.

The U.S. Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability claims that once the Smart Grid infrastructure is in place, an unlimited number of devices can be hooked up. The number of applications, the Department of Energy says, "is growing as fast as inventive companies can create and produce them."

Participating energy companies would provide data screens that enable homeowners to point and click on the thermostat settings throughout the day and evening, fine tuning the amount of energy use to variables in weather and pricing. Several countries in Europe are already allowing homeowners to toggle their settings to off-peak energy pricing.

Smart thermostats that can be set on a computer, laptop or smartphone are already on the market. You can set the heat to come on in your house as you leave work or school for home. Other apps allow you to see if you locked the front door, left lights or appliances running, or failed to close your garage door.

Making energy efficiency work for you

Even with the system installed, you may need to upgrade other components of your home's thermal envelope. Trying to fine-tune a computerized home heating system to the Smart Grid won't be very effective if your house is peppered with air leaks, non-insulated attics and a power-guzzling water heater. Buying ENERGY STAR-rated appliances is a good option. If you're looking for replacement windows installers and insulation contractors, we can help you find pre-screened, certified professionals for those projects.

The bottom line on the homeowner side of the Smart Grid debate is whether sufficient incentives are in place to use the system. Equally important is the question of whether the utility companies will offer variable rates that benefit consumers.

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