The truth will set you free, but it's going to cost you. The new wave of smart meters is going to bring openness and transparency to our resource consumption and we're not going to like what we see.
We are shocked, shocked when we go to the doctor and the scale is 5 to 10 pounds heavier than the one we have at home -- the one that is 10 years old, the one we weigh ourselves with on the carpet; the one where the little red line is somewhat to the left of the zero … good Old Faithful.
No longer will we have the luxury of human error to estimate our utility consumption, now we have machine error which is usually -- with occasional notable exceptions -- resides in the tenth's column, not in the tens column.
It's clear that generally we manage better what we measure better. But the devil is often in the details, as we can see from studies of consumer behavior.
For example, New York City law requires restaurants to post calories on their fast food menus. In the two years since the legislation was enacted, the results so far are mixed. The New York City Department of Health shows that on average 100 fewer calories per visit are being consumed, which means that given our propensity for Big Mac attacks, approximately 26,000 fewer calories per year for a typical fast food consumer. This translates into about 7½ pounds of weight. Not surprisingly, parents ordering for children are influenced by the information, while teenagers absolutely are not (no big surprise there, either).
Nature of the information also is very important. It is much less effective to simply show people how much they are consuming, since mostly they have no idea how they are consuming the energy or water. Many of the entries into the energy metering and analytics field, for example the Smarter Buildings software product just released by IBM or SeriousEnergy from Serious Materials, have complex analytics engines that help users benchmark whether their energy consumption is higher or lower than expected. Other tools, such as SCIwatch from Scientific Conservation, use equipment-specific diagnostic algorithms to pinpoint where energy is being wasted. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to both Serious Materials and Scientific Conservation.)
IBM also announced its new intelligent metering network management software, which is designed to interface with this and future generations of smart meters to allow portfolio holders to manage their consumption more effectively. All is not roses in smart meter land with energy consumer complaints in California and issues in Atlanta with new smart water meters. Not surprisingly, the complaints center around energy bills that suddenly shot up after the new meters were installed. While some cases of malfunctioning meters have been found, most often the change in energy bills results from the extra hot weather, changes in personal behavior or old meters that were malfunctioning and undercharging for typical consumption patterns. Unfortunately, typical consumers and indeed many "professional" consumers are ill equipped to take intelligent action without further details into their consumption patterns.