Two positive smart meter progress reports

More evidence that energy efficiency efforts are probably the quickest way to create more power capacity across the United States.

With the continued backlash around smart meter projects (the latest is that smart meters might mess with your other gadgets at home!) it seemed relevant to point out two new progress reports on two different trials exploring the impact of household behavior in the face of more detailed information about energy efficiency.

OPOWER, a company that offers Home Energy Reports to consumers via a Web portal or via good old snail mail, reports that a Minnesota deployment of its service in conjunction with Minnesota-based utility Connexus has demonstrated a 2.1 percent reduction in residential energy consumption, which is a $1 million savings for Connexus customers.

The results are consistent with consumption patterns at deployments in more than 20 states, according to OPOWER. The average across all its programs is 3.5 percent reduction; OPOWER says it has verified more than $13 million in energy savings so far. What's notable about the Minnesota effort, which has been going on for more than a year now, is that Minnesota typically has a milder climate where temperature fluctuations were less severe. I'll note for perspective, though, that Minnesota also is known to be a relatively green state when it comes to policies and programs. Bruce Sayler, manager of regulatory affairs and conservation at Connexus, had this to say in the press release:

"The OPOWER energy efficiency program has been a bonafide success in helping our customers save money on their bills and helping Connexus meet it's state-mandated energy conservation goals. Our customers have given us great feedback on Home Energy Reports, and it's clear that they're using them to make smarter decisions about their energy consumption."

OPOWER updated its service back in May 2010. The updates to OPOWER 3.0 include a simplification of how data is presented, a new "Insight Dashboard" that analyzes usage and offers "actionable" insight that could be used to adjust behavior, support for dynamic pricing and rate information (if that's something the utility offers). This is what Ogi Kavazovic, senior director of marketing and strategy at OPOWER, told me a couple of months ago: "OPOWER is providing the equivalent of one-third of the U.S. solar industry's output in energy savings -- simply by sending out an actionable set of data once a month to utility customers."

Some data also is out this week from the PowerCentsDC project that was spearheaded by a non-profit organization called the Smart Meter Pilot Program (SMPPI) along with technology partner eMeter in Washington. The trial involved 900 randomly chosen Washington, D.C., residents from across the city. The participants were able to opt for different rate structures by using the smart thermostats that were provided. Like many of the smart meter projects across the United States, the participants were part of ongoing engagement outreach, receiving an in-home display of their savings along with a monthly report about their consumption habits. The project tested three different dynamic pricing models: Critical Peak Pricing, Critical Peak Rebate and Hourly Pricing.

The results of the PowerCentsDC program have inspired the D.C. Public Service to approve plans by utility company Pepco (which was part of the test) to proceed with a full deployment of smart meters throughout the Capitol city.

Overall, about 90 percent of the pilot participants were able to save money as a result of the program, according to eMeter and SMPPI. The report produced for the program is being studied by the White House as an example that might become part of the blueprint for smart grid