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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Archive for Energy

Recording your Energy Attention

Attention applied to Internet and media use has come to mean the what, where, and how you do and don’t spend time.  For example, are you reading your news on Google or NYT? Do you use a portal like MSN or Yahoo? What do you do on Facebook?  Such information, or attention data, can be quite valuable, especially when correlated with other information.  Many companies rely on this concept, both implicitly and explicitly.

This use of the word attention, though, doesn’t apply only to the Internet and media.  It also applies to plain-old products too – which cereal you eat and where you vacation, etc. – in fact, it can apply to everything.

So, it follows, that energy attention is the subset of your attention as it applies to energy:  what, where, and how, you do and don’t use energy.  Just like the more general attention data, such data can also be quite valuable, both to you in reducing your energy use and costs, but also to third-parties for marketing and sales purposes (note that carbon attention overlaps with energy attention, but I am not going into that now).

Electric and Gas utilities record one major aspect of your energy attention today:  your electricity and gas usage data.  Most utilities provide these data back to their customers in summary form on bills, and many provide it in more detail.  My local utility, PG&E, provides me with hourly electricity and gas usage data through their Web portal.

While functional, I wanted real-time usage data.  My first thought was to use the GE SmartMeter that PG&E installed.  While the data could be retrieved from there, my access to it is on an unknown schedule with an unknown feature set.  The California Public Utilities Commission, utilities, vendors, and other stakeholders have been wrangling over issues central to the ownership and sharing of such energy attention data.  Both the Commission and PG&E have good reasons to be careful with this data:  PG&E installed and owns that meter and paid for it with rate-payer monies.  There is a decent (though somewhat dated) overview at Giga OM.  And while the Commission released an update to their proposed decision (PD) yesterday (here), the wrangling isn’t over.

So instead of waiting for this to all get resolved, I followed Jon Udell’s lead and installed The Energy Detective 5000 (TED 5000).  This monitors my home electricity usage in real time, giving me immediate access to my own energy attention data.  This to me, is exactly in the spirit of the Attention Trust (AT), an organization that I did some pro-bono work for in the past along-side of Steve Gillmor.

Now what does this have to do with attention and the AT?

Back in 2005, the AT was formed to assert user rights over attention data, specifically as it related to that data collected by Internet  services.  For example, Google tracks user attention (through clicks and time on pages, etc.) and uses that  information for operating their various services.  You consent to their right these data  through their Terms of Service (TOS).   The AT asserted that the user also owns these data.  To assert this ownership, the AT provided the Attention Recorder with which a user could record their own attention data from the browser.  The act of capturing such data from the user side of the firewall ended the discussion of who owned the data.  Yes, the Internet service has their copy and can use it based on the TOS, but the user owns the data too.

So, the TED 5000 is my own personal Energy Attention Recorder.  I assert ownership over the data and authority to do anything I want with it – including exposing it to any third-party service I so choose.

Interestingly, the PD issued yesterday names the TED 5000 specifically (although in reference to a utility comment).  This is in response to one of the CPUC questions (paraphrased):

Does the Commission have authority over entities that receive information on a consumer’s energy usage from meter sources other than a utility?

While the Commission has deferred this question, it is clear that they will face an up-hill battle on protecting consumers from their own
actions.

I, for one, claim ownership of my own energy attention.

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Use the marginal kWH cost for efficiency savings!

I haven’t done a survey on how green home products present savings to consumers, but my guess is they are generally doing it wrong.  Granted, this might be some mandate from some industry group or governmental body, I don’t know, but it is key that consumers see the difference.

Here is an example, but first some background.

I recently picked up a Kill-a-Watt and have been measuring different devices in the house while on standby.   I want to get a handle on how much vampire power is being wasted.

It turns out that around 60 watts is bleeding from our main home entertainment system when on standby.  That is about 60 watts * 8760 hours = 525 kWH per year.

Aside from a classic power strip with a switch, there are solutions now that supply controlled outlets that only make power available when some master component is on.  One solution is the Zuni Digital smart powerstrip.  Another is the is the Belkin Conserve, though the latter doesn’t have enough outlets (disclosure: those our Amazon links).

So what am I on about?  If you look at the Belkin information, they present a very similar scenario as mine and conclude that the Conserve power strip can save up to $67 / year!  Unfortunately, they are using the wrong price:

Dollar figure based on US Department of Energy average retail price for residential electricity of $0.1132 per killowatt-hour.

Residential electricity rates are often more complex than that, though, and here in the PG&E territory, such a low rate only applies to your baseline usage.  The rates go up based on your usage.  The top rate is actually $0.40352.

If you are a consumer making a decision on saving 525 kWH per year, you should be looking at your top rate — i.e., the top rate you are actually paying to your utilty based on your circumstances.  Because if you shave off kWH, you are saving the money on the top rate, not on the bottom rate.   I’m embarassed to admit it, but our rate is 40-cents.  If I save 526 kWH that saves me $212.    (Of course, if your energy savings drop you to a lower rate, the calculation changs).

The Zuni sells for $39 — that pays for itself in just over two months.  Now, granted, our entertainment system is actually used sometimes, but I estimate it is unused 94% of the year, so that still nets nearly $200.

So, what is the marginal rate you pay?

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