Reports released by the Obama Administration and the Department of Energy cite energy efficiency and home energy management technologies as being vital to the development of a smart grid in the United States and realizing the nation’s energy goals.
A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid, released this week by the Obama Administration, points not only to the importance of energy efficiency in the home, but to the use of energy management systems and set-it-and-forget-it technologies such as programmable thermostats and home control and automation systems. (Though home control and automation systems aren’t mentioned by name.)
From a fact sheet on the report:
A first generation of innovative consumer products and services—such as thermostats that can be controlled from a smart phone, or websites that show how much energy a house is using—can continue to help Americans save money on their electricity bills, and there is great potential to do even more.
The report also states:
Providing simple information—via websites, smart phones, or even kitchen-counter displays—about how much energy a house is using, along with simple tips to help reduce unnecessary energy use, can lead to 5 to 15% in energy savings.
By themselves, smart appliances can help homeowners reduce their energy use, but with a home energy management system (EMS), they can give rise to greater savings. An EMS, for example, promises to allow homeowners to access and operate networked appliances remotely providing them with the ability to turn on a heater or air conditioner from work. Additionally, a home EMS promises to allow users to see their energy use in detail, including the energy use of specific appliances or equipment, such as their pool pump. For some consumers, an EMS may also provide real-time price information that they can use to change their energy use when prices are high, or send automatic directions to specific appliances to turn off during high priced periods or when high demand threatens system stability.
Other highlights of the report:
Making it easy. A recommendation that state and federal regulators should consider means of ensuring that consumer devices and applications make it easier for users to manage energy consumption.
Smart grid technologies like demand response, in which homeowners allow the utility to turn down or turn off appliances during peak load periods can reduce peak energy use by as much as 57 percent and empower consumers to better manage their energy use via:
• Direct load control (DLC) programs in which consumers can choose to allow a program administrator to remotely turn off their appliances or equipment.
• Demand-bidding and buyback programs that provide customers the opportunity to reduce their electric consumption in exchange for a payment.
• Rate programs that create an opportunity for consumers to directly save money by reducing peak energy consumption.
• Programs including real-time pricing and critical peak pricing that vary rates over time to better reflect actual production costs.
Education is key. “A number of states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland, have required utilities to develop education and information programs as a condition of approval of smart grid deployments,” the report states. “An important step in educating consumers is to ensure timely access to their energy usage data and enable consumers to control how it is used.”
Consumer rights. In concert with bills presently before Congress, the report states that consumers should have options for how to receive their energy consumption data, such as through the phone or over the Internet; have timely access to that data; have the right to privacy with that data; and be able to authorize third-party access to that data, such as in the form of a home energy management system. The report recommends that state and federal policymakers and regulators consider updating and enhancing consumer protections for smart grid technologies in regard to concerns about data-sharing, new rate structures, and involuntary remote disconnection and privacy.
Offering feedback in as granular a form as it is collected and stored, and making it available in standard, machine-readable formats, will give consumers an array of options for how they want to receive and interpret energy use information.
Energy Star thermostats. The draft of an Energy Star Climate Control specification requires qualifying climate controls such as thermostats to be able to communicate with the smart grid or other Internet-enabled devices such as smart phones. The draft requires qualifying, communicating Climate Controls to display time-varying price information if utilities provide it. It also requires Climate Controls to offer energy-efficient, consumer-friendly default settings and to meet ease-of-use requirements.
Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), typically smaller electricity generation or storage units such as solar systems located in a community, business, or home, electric vehicles are energy storage systems can work more effectively in tandem with smart grid technology and facilitate a clean energy economy.
To engage more people in energy efficiency, the DOE is announcing America’s Home Energy Education Challenge, a nationwide contest to challenge America’s students and their families to save energy in their homes. After learning about energy efficiency at school, students will use their new skills to compete—as a classroom or as a school—in a national head-to-head competition to reduce energy usage in their homes. DOE will award three grand prizes and ten regional prizes to the teams that save the most energy and mobilize the highest percentage of students to compete.
Strategic Energy Plan
The DOE’s Strategic Plan, released last week, covers the gamut of energy issues such as clean energy (including nuclear), national security, smart grid and battery technology—and gives a definitive nod to energy efficiency:
Improvements in energy efficiency are among the most cost-effective and immediate steps toward our national energy goals.
The DOE says that it “and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will work together to enable the cost-effective energy retrofits of a total of 1.1 million housing units by the end of fiscal year 2013. The DOE will also update efficiency standards and best practices, including at least six appliance standards annually and review minimum appliance efficiency standards at least every five years.”
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates