In an understated stroke of genius, some clever folks have proposed that we start paying attention to our power meters.
You know, those cobwebby boxes that cling under your eaves like big gray fruit bats. The ones with the quaint row of dials quietly ticking off your power usage with analog precision. It wouldn’t stretch the imagination to envision a cuckoo popping out at every hundredth kilowatt-hour.
So here’s an idea worthy of the Information Age: How about moving the meter indoors, where we can pay attention to it? How about making it digital, so it can read out our usage at any moment? What about posting real-time electricity prices online so we can make up our minds about when to run the dishwasher?
Most of us know, dimly, in a theoretical sort of way, that electricity prices fluctuate during the day. And bargain shopping is a fairly universal trait in modern humans. Now, at least in Chicago, people can put the two together by checking their meters against rate information online. There’s real-time price information as well as an archive of rates – a quick survey indicated a more than five-fold change during just the last two days.
So, when will PG&E in California put this into effect? As the New York Times reports, it’s not really in a utility’s best interest to enable our bargain shopping instincts. But then again, California has major energy demands – and shortages. So while their website gives no indication of real-time metering for customers, they’ve already got a program in place to help large businesses monitor (and optimize) their usage.
Although economics figure highly in this piece of news, it goes without saying that keeping track of energy usage would allow us to reduce overall demand. Which would reduce environmental impact as well. Cheers to Chicago’s Community Energy Cooperative!
Footnote: Like a lot of brand-new great ideas, people were thinking of this one back in the energy crisis of the 1970s, as the Times article reports in a mystified tone of voice. But like fuel-efficient cars, for some reason, the meters just never got off the ground. Maybe they will this time around.
(via Plenty magazine; image courtesy Steven Vandenburg, NOAA)