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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Archive for Utilities

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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Educating Customers about Smart Meters

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm has a good piece today about Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn’t Going Away.  Taking her points together (except for “hard times”, which the utilities can’t do much about), it really comes down to poor customer education.  I’ll get back to the “People don’t like PG&E” point later.

In general, the utilities should have answered these questions for their customers before starting the changeover:

  • How does a smart meter help the customer?
  • Are meters read more frequently and/or read at finer intervals?
  • What is being done to protect that data?
  • Will the utility sell that data to others?
  • (How) Will the utility provide that data to the government / law enforcement?
  • How are the meters tested for accuracy?
  • How do we know if my old meter was accurate?
  • Why might my bill change and what do I do if I think there is an issue?

I don’t think it is sufficient to have a bill insert that explains these things.  I have a new PG&E smart meter, and have never seen any literature about the smart meter change.  I was out of town when PG&E came knocking at my door, and again I was away when the installer showed up.  I might be able to go find some of this information on the PG&E site, but my point is that I don’t think I should have to go look for it.

And, I certainly don’t mean to pick on PG&E.  I actually don’t know that “People don’t like PG&E”.  My relationship with them has always been a good one.  For example, some foundation contractors knocked my gas meter out of whack (and left the house with an audible gas leak), PG&E came right away to fix it and turn the gas back on.  No charge, friendly and professional. 

My personal opinion about the reports of inaccuracies is that it has a lot more to do with the meter being replaced than the new meter.  I have talked with others in the utility business who have experienced this over the years (e.g., the customer is complaining about their meter, so we replaced it and now their bills have gone up).  Utilities must know this in the metering department, so why didn’t they lead with this in customer education instead of just hoping it wouldn’t come up?