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Make Conservation Simple
(and Easy)

Mar 23, 2009 - Kevin Kelleher - Wired Magazine

Illustration: James Day



Power to the People

Deliver Clean Energy to Distant Cities

Store Power in Super Batteries

Monitor the Electrons in Real Time

Trade Electricity Like Pork Bellies

Think Negawatts, Not Megawatts

Make Conversvation Simple (and Easy)


A smart grid requires smart electric meters that let households track and manage their power consumption in real time. The Obama administration wants 40 million homes to have technology like this installed within the next three years. But smart meters require smart consumers—or at least attentive ones—and most people don't think about their energy use until it's time to pay the bill or until the lights go out.




1 Average Consumer
Most customers simply replace their old meter with a smart one. Then they enter some basic preferences—do you care more about cost or reliability?—and input data on their house size and appliances. The system tracks usage and will eventually be able to suggest changes to help users achieve their energy goals. Special vacation settings can be programmed in. Call centers will be ready to help the tech-averse.

2 Energy Donor
Some homes with solar panels on the roof—or a plugged-in hybrid in the garage—will be able to funnel power back into the system, choosing when and how much they send. A homeowner could, for example, arrange to shoot solar power to the grid, instead of to their air conditioner, when the price rises above a certain threshold. That would boost the system's supply precisely when it's most needed.

3 Electricity Geek
By inserting special plugs into their electrical outlets, creative consumers can turn almost anything into a smart appliance—even mundane stuff like hall lights, pool pumps, and garage doors. With a bit of tinkering on the grid program's Web site, savvy users can then manage the power flowing to each appliance and rank them according to the order they should be shut down when prices rise.

Make the meters as easy to use as a TiVo. Then, make them interesting—and worth real money—to folks who like to fiddle. For the $100 million SmartGridCity project in Boulder, Colorado, Xcel Energy and a group of partners are building a system that lets customers manage home electricity use through a Web page that shows energy burned, carbon footprint, and ways to save cash.

Updated: 2016/06/30

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