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May 142009

By Carol Sonenklar
Green Right Now

Kim Williams didn’t really think she would be studying pie charts and graphs on a regular basis. But several times a month, that’s exactly what she does when she logs into her Pennsylvania Power & Light (PPL) Energy Analyzer account website.

She checks her energy usage to see exactly what her bill is, what specific appliances are consuming, whether her usage is occurring during peak times, and also gauges her costs compared with other similar-sized homes.

“Since I’ve started checking the site, we have lowered our costs substantially by turning the heat off in rooms we don’t use, and lowering the thermostat by two degrees,” says Williams. “I feel like a nerd, studying what other people are using. But it’s interesting to see exactly what we use, when we use it and try to change our behavior. We do all our laundry now at night, during off-peak hours.”

Williams is just one of the 47,000 visitors to the site the utility company receives each week. Since PPL has equipped each of its 1.4 million customers with new “smart meters,” and then rolled out their interactive¬† Energy Analyzer¬† in the summer of 2007, the number of users has increased by a whopping 800 percent.

Clearly consumers are interested in their pie charts.

The meters are wired into the company’s website which allows customers to see exactly how much energy they are using, every hour, every day. Ninety-nine percent of customer’s bills are based on the actual energy they’re using and the estimated bill is virtually a thing of the past. PPL also offers an Energy Analyzer to help customers figure out exactly what they’re spending on each appliance, for example, or on heating and cooling. There is also a longer questionnaire that customers can fill out to help them pinpoint exactly how their family uses energy, complete with a pie chart and graphs to compare with others. Since introducing the Energy Analyzer, more than 280,000 customers have accessed it, and 100,000 more have taken the extra step of filling out the questionnaire.

“With the Energy Analyzer, customers can break down their bills and see that they’re spending $200 for heating and cooling, for example, $50 for the water heater, or $30 on the refrigerator. They can also see what their using at peak energy times,” says Ryan Hill, spokesperson for PPL. “With this tool, people can really understand what energy efficiency is all about.”

The shift to smart meters is part of an overall attempt to modernize the country’s electrical grid, into a “smart” grid. The foundational technology that enables all these “smart” innovations is known as Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI).

AMI is an integral part of the Modern Grid Strategy, a Department of Energy-sponsored project led by the Horizon Energy Group for National Energy Technology Lab (NETL).