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I noticed that PG&E were running a television advert this week for My Energy, the web application that offers customers access to their Smart Meter data. I am an advocate of Smart Meters - let's get that out early - but it does not mean that I blindly accept positive spin, or will allow the abundant negativity towards our local utility affect me! I live in Marin County, first county in California to enact AB117 (CCA) and offer choice to the residents through the Marin Energy Authority.

Smart MetersWe publish expert opinions on technology (I do understand Smart Meters) our mission is to share the personal experiences of real people. I prefer to observe what people do. Way more informative than listening to what they say.

So with this principle in mind, I decided to investigate how the residents of California, starting with Marin County, were actually using their My Energy accounts. In particular to find out how they had used the Smart Meter data from PG&E to save electricity.

I have tried to persuade adults to change their attitude to energy saving for 3 years with little success. (foot note 1)

I recently asked a 15 year old sophomore, the granddaughter of a close friend, if she would write up her perspective of energy efficiency.

I thought it would be an interesting post. I was correct! She writes, "Most people will not want to listen to a wasteful, un-resourceful, under-educated, selfish, gas-guzzling hypocrite."

What an unusual way for someone to frame who they would like as an energy teacher. Why these words? Here are some facts; California is 50th in the state ranking of educational achievement; The divorce rate in Marin County is 78%; California is #1 for wind generation scams; I think I understand better now.

PG&E, Authorities, Parents, Everyone - please can we hear this message!

I began by contacting a friend in Marin who has a significant monthly electricity bill ($580.00) - we have discussed energy efficiency many times, and done the regular audit, insulation, weatherization, CFL bulbs, thermostat control, appliances etc. Yet, despite this, and the many discussions about Marin Clean Energy, and having had the Smart Meter since March 2011, he has not activated his account. 

Since then I have asked 6 more people I know if they have used My Energy from PG&E. I am going to ask the question in a slightly different way in future.  Het jy al ooit probeer om minder selfsugtig te wees? This will guarantee a different response. If the people I know have not activated their My Energy account from PG&E - what shoud we expect from the "do not pay attention to electricity" in California to have done?

PG&E tell me that there are 4.4 million rate payers who have had their meter upgrade completed. Interesting way to describe their Smart Meter installation. I am waiting on them to get back to me on usage statistics. I expect to find that less than 5% of the 4,4 million have used the data in any significant way. We know from our web statistics that California talk a good green program, so long as it is someone else doing the doing!

My Energy Data Analysis
We have published the following section to help readers inside and outside California understand how we then used the Smart Meters data to review our energy efficieny.

We found that the data does an excellent job of visualizing monthly and daily energy use. There is clear potential for using this application to increase a rate payers energy awareness. We found that it was limited in it's ability to diagnose device level energy use, or to suggest any specific actions to take.

Besides being a vast improvement on what used to be an information less bill 23 days after the end of the previous month,  it's mere existance DID prove to be an opportunity for us to discuss energy use with Marin's residents. I am sorry that in every case to date, the opportunity was a discussion of why they had not activated their account, but I am at the point where any constructive discussion with a home owner on energy attitude is better than nothing!

My Energy CostMonthy Data - November 2012 electricity use.
The graph shows the daily totals for a medium sized family home in Marin County, California - for the biling period of November.

The first thing I noticed as I scanned through the data was the consistent electricity spike each Friday. On investigation; washing is done on Fridays - and they are doing all the right things - full loads - using the dryer continuously - unfortunately there is no opportunity for saving electricity - and no cost saving by (rate shifting) rescheduling when the washing is done as they are not on a time of use billing schedule. If time of use billing arrives, there could be a cost saving to them in rescheduling the washing to an off peak period.

I could find no way to use this data to identify any energy inefficiencies in their home. Home totals need to be in real time (like using a Ted) in order to use them to see what electricity heating, cooling, lighting and appliances are using. The biggest value of the data will have been in raising energy awareness, It did create an additional opportunity for us to discuss energy efficiency!

As I have written many times, it is ACTION that saves. Monitoring is but one of many ways to achieve a change of attitude! Although the data in our PG&E account is interesting to us, like we noticed a small spike in electricity when my wife baked a batch of brownies last Thursday (Christmas celebrations) - there is nothing that the Smart Meter data provides regarding energy usage of devices that we do know already.

My Energy Use - HourlyDaily data - Friday, December 9th, hourly totals.
This graph clearly shows the amount of electricity being used each hour - but without circuit level analysis it is not clear what appliances are actually using the electricity.

I do agree that this data has created an opportunity to examine my friends attitude and efforts to saving energy. And this is a good thing - so long as it is replicated across the entire customer base! 

If you’re an energy geek, and love analyzing data to save energy, then you might be able to find a way to write down/record exactly what you did at exact times - like turn on an appliance - and then correlate this to the data when it is published.

There are passionate energy savers who have done just about everything possible to save energy. I am sure that they have registered for their My Energy account and like me, found that it confirms the effectiveness of their efforts. A word of caution; any domestic disputes over who forgot to turn the printer off is over the top!

Then there is most California rate payers. What percentage have registered? Have they looked at the data? Did this result in any change and if so what? What percentage have made a sustained change to their home electricity footprint? I look forward to writing the answers to these questions after I hear from PG&E.

The challenge to raise our awareness of the need to save electricity remains, but the longer harder battle will be to translate this into a sustained change in energy saving behavior.

Foot Note 1: Google "home energy attitude' - our articles on energy attitude are at the top of + 30 million search results.

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