IBM Tests If Smart Meters Can Prod Consumers into Using Less Energy

IBM Tests If Smart Meters Can Prod Consumers into Using Less Energy

Transmission tower image CC-licensed by OiMax/Flickr

 IBM is testing how the smart grid can change consumer behavior with a project letting 1,000 households see real-time, detailed energy data.

IBM has been working with Dubuque, Iowa, as part of the company's Smarter Planet initiative, a project using grid technologies to improve water and energy use in cities.

Started in 2009, the partnership began with a water pilot project that installed smart water meters in volunteer homes and led to a 6.6 percent reduction in water use.

Now IBM and Dubuque, a city of 60,000 people, will see how well smart electrical meters and access to energy use information can lead to conservation by informing people's behaviors.

Smart meters, which can relay household energy use in frequent intervals to utilities, have been installed in 1,000 households that signed up for the six-month program.

Volunteers can access IBM's Smarter Energy Cloud, a website that will show them their current and historical energy use, and also allow them to share energy-saving tips and results with other volunteers.

The site will show energy use from the start of the month, projected total energy use for the full month, energy use in terms of kilowatt hours or dollars, and if people are consuming more or less than the average home or similar-sized homes. Users will be able to see energy use in various intervals of time, all the way down to 15-minute chunks.

"The system also runs a lot of analytics, and analyzes consumption over a period of time and offers actionable insights," said Milind Naphade, a staff member at IBM Research who has been running the Dubuque project. "There are a number of personalized insights that the system relays for each consumer, based on their data."

The system might point out above-average air-conditioning use or excessive vampire energy use from devices that are plugged in but off. The system will recommend actions, such as setting your thermostat higher, and help people track the results of changes.

The city, meanwhile, will be able to monitor aggregate data on the information the smart meters send in every 15 minutes. Naphade said that kind of information can help a city monitor energy trends related to events like major rainstorms.

"Anytime you're looking at a community and how it's using energy and resources," Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol said, "certainly the city is going to have a benefit from seeing that aggregate data."

Based on the previous results of the smart water meter pilot and residents' embracing of sustainability concepts, Buol is hoping for positive news when IBM and Dubuque start reporting the results of the study in December.

"The citizens and business in Dubuque have a real buy-in to sustainability," he said. "I'm really expecting some dynamic results."

Transmission tower image CC-licensed by OiMax/Flickr