Posted on March 21, 2012

In-Home Energy Management Getting Personal

By David Kligman

Some PG&E employees are testing a device that monitors their electric use almost in real time.

You’ve turned off your heat while you’re away at work to save energy, but imagine being able to adjust your thermostat remotely with a few clicks on your smart phone so that your home is cozy and warm when you get home. Or, turn down your air conditioning a degree to save on your bill when you’re away.

In-home energy management is becoming personal in ways many customers haven’t even considered.

PG&E is testing new technologies, some enabled by SmartMeters™, which have been installed in nearly 9 million homes in Northern and Central California. Among the technologies PG&E is testing: a thermostat app, an in-home device that monitors electricity use in near real-time and personalized energy reports mailed to homeowners.

“Customers expect their personal technology to be smart and easy to use, and we believe that energy management should be no different,” said Steve Malnight, PG&E’s vice president of customer energy solutions. “These are just some of the ways we’re making in-home technology fun and engaging.”

Remote-controlled heating, air conditioning via an iPhone app

A small number of employees have tested a thermostat app, which makes it easy for customers to program, monitor and control their heating and air conditioning use from a smart phone. In addition to conveniently adjusting thermostat settings wherever the customer may be, the app also offers personalized tips to help save energy and money.

PG&E partners Honeywell and Opower developed the technology. PG&E is the first utility to evaluate this tool and is considering further testing of up to 750 customers who would volunteer to participate.

The thermostat app is being evaluated for a potential rollout with customers in the future.

Home Area Network: Near real-time electricity usage and pricing

In November, PG&E introduced plans to roll out a device that provides customers with information to help them save energy and money. The utility’s Home Area Network or HAN allows customers to see the price they’re paying for electricity and how that changes throughout the month.

The device—about the size of an in-car GPS monitor—works with SmartMeters to monitor customers’ electricity in near real-time by recording and updating electric usage about every 15 seconds.

Homeowners can see the amount of electricity at any moment and what that’s costing them in dollars and cents. The technology allows them to identify the biggest electricity draws and then make changes to lower their energy. For homes with Wi-Fi connection, it also displays the weather outside.

“All of a sudden my family has become much more energy conscious,” said Andi Rich, whose husband Brian works for PG&E and volunteered to test the technology. “If I see our numbers go up, I will take a walk around the house to see if we left anything on. And my daughter has absolutely become the energy usage police, even asking me to dry our clothes outside instead of using our dryer.”

About 75 PG&E employees are testing the device at their homes and about 425 customers will join the testing this summer.

As for why employees have taken part first, Malnight said, “Even in a pilot, the experience we deliver to our customers is important. By testing with employees first we are able to identify and correct issues so that we deliver the best experience possible to our customers.”

Home Energy Reports expanding

More customers also will be invited to participate in PG&E’s Home Energy Reports program. Reports are mailed to customers’ homes and show analyzed electricity and gas usage, as well as tips on how to make small changes around the home to save energy.

Some 260,000 customers already receive the reports and this month an additional 400,000 customers will be invited to participate. The latest expansion is part of a larger rollout expected to reach more than 1 million customers by the end of 2012.

These home energy reports allow customers to compare energy use with their neighbors—100 nearby homes that are similar in size, are occupied and have PG&E service. The information is aggregated to make sure that customer privacy is fully protected.

Every month, PG&E generates and mails the reports, which show at a glance whether customers’ energy usage is “average,” “good” or “great” compared with their neighbors. Customers who don’t receive the reports and have a SmartMeter can see detailed statistics on their energy use at www.pge.com/myaccount.

E-mail David Kligman at david.kligman@pge.com.

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