Smarter Parts: Improving Efficient Energy Use and Demand?

Could creating "smarter" homes with devices and sensors that can monitor electrical demand and heating requirements -- including the going market price for electricity -- help automate efforts to use energy more efficiently and lower the impact of peak demand on the nation's power grid?

Possibly.

For a year, Jerry Brous lived a little piece of the future. The 67-year-old resident of Sequim, Wash., was part of a test of a home energy system smart enough to respond to changing prices of electricity. When the price rose because of greater demand on the grid, the house automatically dialed back the thermostat, or shut down the water heater and clothes dryer. That shaved an estimated 15% from Brous' energy bills, giving him average monthly payments of $85 with a monthly high of $148. More important, with more than 100 houses equipped like Brous' in the experiment, the smart system was good for the grid as well. It smoothed power peaks, reduced the need for expensive new power plants, and cut the chances of a blackout.

The man who devised the test -- Robert G. Pratt, program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) -- sees tremendous potential for the technology.

And overall, Pratt says, the project was a big success. The total amount of power needed when demand was the greatest was cut by 15%. Indeed, in times of heavy demand, power consumption went down to 50% of normal for days at a time.

The subjects of the study were able to hop on the internet, access their home settings, and adjust it remotely, too. The technology has a lot of challenges ahead of it, which the article terms "daunting challenges" consisting of state and federal regulations, consumers and the overall effort required to implement such technology.

In addition, there are other questions that should be asked regarding the whole concept, as well as potential negative aspects. Here are two:

1. How secure is the system? If it is accessible over the internet, it is potentially vulnerable to unapproved tampering or monitoring. What safeguards can be implemented to ensure safety and protect privacy once more sensors are implemented in a home and then hooked up to the internet?

2. What impact could such a system have on power distribution companies, utilities and service providers? Would a system like this have made it more difficult for a company like Enron that attempts to game the market, or would it make things easier?

What other questions came people come up with? What are some of the other potential costs? ...how about benefits? Risks? Rewards?

Check out the article, then jump into comments and share your thoughts.

Update: According to The International Herald Tribune (hat-tip Lordrag), those crazy Californian legislators want to control people's home thermostats:

California wants to control home thermostats
By Felicity Barringer, Published: January 11, 2008

[...snip...]

Next year in California, state regulators are likely to have the emergency power to control individual thermostats, sending temperatures up or down through a radio-controlled device that will be required in new or substantially modified houses and buildings to manage electricity shortages.

The proposed rules are contained in a document circulated by the California Energy Commission ...

[...snip...]

The changes would allow utilities to adjust customers' preset temperatures when the price of electricity is soaring. Customers could override the utilities' suggested temperatures. But in emergencies, the utilities could override customers' wishes. [Article continues...]

Some of the concerns expressed about the security of the technology are being dismissed by folks at PG&E, perhaps out of hand, stating that the signals would be "encrypted and encoded."

Sort of like wireless networking technology, right? We all know how secure that is, so we can put to rest those concerns. And, with regard to fears about potential Enron-like abuse? Well, that just doesn't happen, in California or anywhere else...

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over here, in my little neck of the woods, we saw a 33% increase in electricity last year, with a 19% increase this year. I think creating energy efficient homes is very important, but how can a computer decide how much energy I need to use at any given time? Are my energy needs less important than say ... banks, retail outlets, etc.? And don't even get me started on Las Vegas -- the power used to light Vegas could power a small country!

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If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin

Taking heat from commuters

Here's a novel new form of people power: A Swedish company plans to harness the body heat generated by thousands of commuters scrambling to catch their trains at Stockholm's main railway station and use it for heating a nearby office building.

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ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin

We reduced our electricity bill by 30 percent last year. How? (Bet you are dying to know!)

We stopped using the clothes dryer -- bought one of those solar dryer thingies (a ka clothes line).

Then we turned off the attic fan, which in defiance of reason actually madethe house cooler and reduced our use of the air conditioner in the office (AC is for the computers).

(late 70's early 80's) there was a lawsuit against a company for selling "solar clothes dryers" in magazine ads. People were very upset when they received coils of rope in the mail. But there was nothing in the ad that said they were getting anything else ...

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ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin