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Neat-o: Smart Energy Meters

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
I want these to happen in Toronto.

From today's Toronto Star:

Energy junkies learn to unplug

CAROL GOAR

Many odd and interesting stories will be told in the next few years about how we learned to conserve, how we weaned ourselves from unnecessary appliances and how we cut our electricity bills.

But for sheer serendipity, few will match the tale of Woodstock Hydro.

Fifteen years ago, the utility's general manager Gord Jarvis came up with what he thought was a brilliant plan to cut costs. Woodstock would become the first municipality in Canada to offer pay-as-you-go electricity.

Customers would be invited to install a special meter in their home. It would measure exactly how much power they were consuming and tell them when they needed to buy more. To purchase electricity, they would take their computerized hydro card to any convenience store, get it charged and insert it in their meter.

Conservation was the furthest thing from Jarvis' mind. He wanted a better balance sheet.

By getting customers to pay up-front, he figured, the utility wouldn't have to chase down so many delinquent accounts, write off so many unpaid bills and fight with so many surly clients.

Garry Roth, the current president of Woodstock Hydro, was working in the metering department at the time. He thought the scheme would be an embarrassing flop.

"I expected it to be short-lived," he recalled. "I didn't think customers would like it."

He couldn't have been more wrong.

Not only did the new system prove durable and popular, it had an unexpected benefit: It turned hydro hogs into careful consumers.

Clients were able to cut their bills by 15 to 20 per cent merely by watching their meter. They could figure out which appliances were the biggest drains on their power supply. They had an incentive to turn off lights, lower thermostats, use the microwave and ease up on the air conditioning.

Today, Roth is something of an evangelist for pay-as-you go hydro. "Give people the right tools and they'll conserve," he says. "If you can monitor electricity use, you can manage it."

He has convinced the federal government to launch three pilot projects this summer to see if Woodstock's results can be replicated in Alberta, British Columbia and the Maritimes. He has asked for a meeting with provincial Energy Minister Dwight Duncan. He has sold the concept of pay-as-you-go energy to his counterparts in Hamilton, Orangeville, Orillia, Oshawa and Peterborough. (To implement such a plan, they would need approval from the Ontario Energy Board. Woodstock's system was grandfathered when the OEB assumed its current responsibilities in 1998.)

There are disadvantages to prepaid energy:

If a customer can't afford to charge his or her power card, the lights go out. There's no way to postpone paying for electricity.

But Roth says such problems are rare. "Very few people run out of power. More were disconnected under the old system because people had no control and they'd end up $200 to $300 in arrears."

Smart meters are expensive. The ones Woodstock Hydro uses cost $495 apiece. The utility rents them for $7.50 a month.

But Roth says the prices are coming down. He is about to import a batch of new, highly sophisticated meters from England (none are manufactured in Canada) that will rent for $5 a month.

Users have to keep track of their energy supply. If they forget to feed their meter, they could run out of power at an inopportune moment.

But Roth says people quickly get into the habit of buying electricity. Most power up their card two or three times a month and spend an average of $25 a shot. "It's like putting gas in your car."

He acknowledges that homeowners don't instinctively leap at the chance to pay for power before they use it. Only 25 per cent of Woodstock Hydro's 10,500 customers have switched to the new system. "I'd say that's our fault," Roth said. "We should be marketing the program more actively. So far, it's all been done by word of mouth."

He also admits that energy conservation won't solve all of Ontario's supply and pollution problems. But it might allow the province to close a couple of coal-fired generators.

Roth finds it frustrating that other communities haven't followed Woodstock's example. Part of the reason, he says, is regulatory. The Ontario Energy Board hasn't given local utilities the authority to experiment with innovative delivery mechanisms. The other problem is financial. Smart meters, especially for a large utility like Toronto Hydro, would be a huge investment.

But major cities in the United States and Europe have moved to pay-as-you-go power. One of the leaders in the field is the Salt River Project, which provides power to the Phoenix-Scottsdale area of Arizona. It has 800,000 clients (Toronto Hydro has 655,000).

Since Woodstock Hydro adopted pay-as-you-go hydro, its unpaid bills have dropped from $70,000 a year to $5,000 a year. So Jarvis was right in a bookkeeping sense.

But his bigger achievement was a fluke. He developed a simple, sensible energy conservation tool.
 
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labRat

TRIBE Member
To purchase electricity, they would take their computerized hydro card to any convenience store, get it charged and insert it in their meter.

That's fukken lame. As if I want to have to run to a store to fill up my hydro. Sorry, not for me.
 

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
How come, labrat?

What if it translated into saving money on your hydro and reducing your consumption?
 
In England this was par for the course, except you could add money (pound coins) instead.

Those were probably the old-school versions of these new fandangled gizmos.

Very good idea indeed.
 

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
haha

Val, my mum lived in Liverpool until she was 7, and she used to tell us about the 'lekkie-box' and how the lights would go out if they didn't have any coins to chuck in .
 
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PRIMAL

TRIBE Member
My hydro is included in my rent so who cares about costs?

Also I'm scared of the dark so all lights must be on at all times.

Bad Bad idea.

Actually I like the idea but being scared of the dark makes me say those things.
 

SneakyPete

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by janiecakes
How come, labrat?

What if it translated into saving money on your hydro and reducing your consumption?

It doesn't save you money, it may end up costing you more. You have to pay upfront for a certain amount of power. As soon as you make that purchase it becomes sunk cost. If people really are environmentally conscious they would watch they consumption anyways.
 
Originally posted by janiecakes
haha

Val, my mum lived in Liverpool until she was 7, and she used to tell us about the 'lekkie-box' and how the lights would go out if they didn't have any coins to chuck in .

Yeah, our house didn't have one, but my pals had them, pretty funny when you're making dinner, watching tv and having a great time then *bzzzzzzzzzzzz* power out.

Gets you in the consumption habit PDQ!
 

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by SneakyPete
It doesn't save you money, it may end up costing you more.

From the article: "Clients were able to cut their bills by 15 to 20 per cent merely by watching their meter."
 
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janiecakes

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by SneakyPete
If people really are environmentally conscious they would watch they consumption anyways.

Also from the article: "They could figure out which appliances were the biggest drains on their power supply. They had an incentive to turn off lights, lower thermostats, use the microwave and ease up on the air conditioning."

I try to watch my consumption already but if I could monitor how much energy is used by different appliances, I'd be much more effective at conserving energy.
 

chipotle

Well-Known TRIBEr
mart meters are expensive. The ones Woodstock Hydro uses cost $495 apiece. The utility rents them for $7.50 a month.

initial start up costs would be expensive.

maybe.. i would go for it. You would have to have a smart card with money in it ready for when the power goes out.
It is not a bad idea.
A lot of people would just have to get used to it , that is all.
 

SneakyPete

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by janiecakes
From the article: "Clients were able to cut their bills by 15 to 20 per cent merely by watching their meter."

Then they weren't really environmentally conscious were they? You can do all that without having a program like this.
 

I_bRAD

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by janiecakes
Also from the article: "They could figure out which appliances were the biggest drains on their power supply. They had an incentive to turn off lights, lower thermostats, use the microwave and ease up on the air conditioning."

I try to watch my consumption already but if I could monitor how much energy is used by different appliances, I'd be much more effective at conserving energy.

I suppose that's an OK idea... but running to the store to charge a card would be a pain in the ass. Especially if you were running low and there was a snowstorm preventing you from going out. Or if you were sick in bed with the flu and your heat shut off 'cause you couldn't make it to the bank!

Perhaps paying via the intraweb might be more convenient.

Using this as a method of making customers aware of what power they're using and what appliances use the most energy is rather inefficient. It would be more practical to send out a pamphlet to homeowners/renters outlining which appliances use the most power and how to conserve. That's been done and its pretty common knowledge what can be done to save energy.

Also- appliances tell you how much energy they use right on the back. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure its a CSA standard. So you can see how much energy your appliance uses just by looking on the back- no need for a fancy pants metering system.
 
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gollum

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by labRat
That's fukken lame. As if I want to have to run to a store to fill up my hydro. Sorry, not for me.

That's because you live in the middle of nowhere.

What if you for example could recharge your hydro over the computer or your blackberry. Damn right you'd be all over that like a fat kid on a smarty.

Personally I don't see the neccesity of pay as you go, but the idea of this initiative is a great one.

The idea of putting hydro use into the hands of the people who use it. The idea of open accounting. If you placed a meter for hydro use where people can see it (tie it into a home computer system for example), people can see when they waste power (or water or any other similar service), which helps them conserve.

If there was a little meter beside your light switch tellign you it was using x amount of power everyday, allowing you to easily calculate its cost, its almost guaranteed that you would turn that light off more often.

Unfortunately hydro bills are a mass of confusing numbers and letters etc..
ex: Here is my current hydro bill.

Current Charges
Metered Electric Service - 0001
Customer Charge 29.93
Distribution Charge 2697.000 KWH @ 0.01340 36.14
Transmission Charge 2798.407 KWH @ 0.01040 29.10
Wholesale Operations Charge 2798.407 KWH @ 0.00620 17.35
Debt Retirement Charge 2697.000 KWH @ 0.00700 18.88
Standard Supply Service Charge @ 0.53
* Energy Charge 2798.407 KWH @ 0.04300 120.33
Total Electricity Charge 252.26
Other Products and Services
Water Heater Rental 1.000 14.93
Total Charge for Other Products and Services 14.93
Total Current Charges 267.19

They only send a bill out every 2 or 3 months, so how do I know of this bill what is from Oven, microwave, refrigerator, baseboard heaters, lights etc.

If I had a meter that was easily readable (ever tried to read a hydro meter? I had to do it for work and after 6 months I'd still mess up every once in a while), then I'd be better able to control my energy use.

That said energy conservation is a confusing issue. Did any of you people know about phantom loads? These are loads on our electricity even when we think our appliances are off.

For example: If you have a TV, or VCR, or stereo that uses a remote. Even when they are "off" or on standby they still draw a considerable amount of power. My dvd player draws 2 Watts (which is energy expended/sec by an unvarying current of 1 ampere under the pressure of one volt).

So if you take this as an average in your house: Tv, VCR, DVD, Amp, CD player: that's about 10 watts, which is a significant amount when you consider it is on 24 hours a day.


Cheers.
(really into this stuff right now as I'm trying to design/build an off the grid house)
 

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by SneakyPete
Then they weren't really environmentally conscious were they? You can do all that without having a program like this.

Making it as easy and as in-your-face as possible will get people who aren't necessarily the most environmentally conscious in their daily lives to conserve more power. The hydro provider's unpaid bills have dropped astronomically and people are conserving more. Whether someone is environmentally conscious or not has nothing to do with whether this program is a good thing. I don't quite see what you're getting at.
 

janiecakes

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by I_bRAD
Also- appliances tell you how much energy they use right on the back. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure its a CSA standard. So you can see how much energy your appliance uses just by looking on the back- no need for a fancy pants metering system.

That's all well and good, but people don't do this. A meter showing the total energy being consumed in your house is much simpler than running around looking at the back of your appliances and trying to figure out how much energy you're using and how much it's going to cost you.

I agree with you that paying over the internet would be much better than going out to a convenience store.
 

beaker

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by gollum
What if you for example could recharge your hydro over the computer or your blackberry. Damn right you'd be all over that like a fat kid on a smarty.

damn blackberry snobs ruining it for the rest of us....
 

I_bRAD

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by janiecakes
That's all well and good, but people don't do this. A meter showing the total energy being consumed in your house is much simpler than running around looking at the back of your appliances and trying to figure out how much energy you're using and how much it's going to cost you.

I agree with you that paying over the internet would be much better than going out to a convenience store.

There already is a meter showing how much power you're using... the one that hydro bills you by!

There's detailed instructions on Toronto Hydro's website about how to read the meter. Its actually quite simple.

Most of the power usage is the Fridge and the air conditioner if you have one. And heat if you're place is heated electrically.

You're not going to shut off your fridge... so you check the power rating once and calculate what its costing you per day or month or whatever.

A light bulb is pretty easy to figure out its draw. The stove is a bit harder if its electric, but are you going to cook less or differently to save energy? I know I don't

Personally, I don't think this would help conserve electricity. People who care are already doing what they can. People who don't- don't.
SUV's come with easily readable "current mileage" displays, but that hasn't stopped people buying SUV's has it?
It would help with the delinquent customer scenario. That way we wouldn't have those welfare bums ripping off the system right Jane? ;)
 
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janiecakes

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by I_bRAD
Personally, I don't think this would help conserve electricity. People who care are already doing what they can. People who don't- don't.

Did you miss the part of the article where they said clients were cutting their consumption by 15 - 20 %?

Obviously it's possible to figure out how much energy you're using on an ongoing basis, but like I said earlier, your average every day person is not going to do so. If it reduces unpaid bills and cuts consumption, it's a good thing.
 

labRat

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by gollum
That's because you live in the middle of nowhere.

What if you for example could recharge your hydro over the computer or your blackberry. Damn right you'd be all over that like a fat kid on a smarty.
nope. still a pain.

I would however be willing to entertain a power meter on all my large appliances and whotnot. I could monitor it myself and do things that way.

for that past three 3-month intervals, I average about $150 total. to save $10-20 over those three months wouldn't be worth the time and effort to run to a store every month or so.

edit: i think that number also includes my water.
 

labRat

TRIBE Member
oh, and one more thing. you'll probably get dinged $2-5 to fill your meter at the convenience store.
 

I_bRAD

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by janiecakes
Did you miss the part of the article where they said clients were cutting their consumption by 15 - 20 %?

Obviously it's possible to figure out how much energy you're using on an ongoing basis, but like I said earlier, your average every day person is not going to do so. If it reduces unpaid bills and cuts consumption, it's a good thing.

I still don't get it.

So... some of the clients cut their bill by 15-20% Did they not make the correlation before? Surely they knew before the new system came into effect that if they reduced their power consumption then they would simultaneously reduce their hydro bill.

I find it hard to believe. Where does that 15-20% figure come from? I see no cited studies. The way it is worded means that at minimum (assuming the statement is true at all) 2 customers reduced their power consumption by 15% That doesn't impress me. There must be at least a couple of people who were completely oblivious to their power consumption before the program.

"Hey lookee ma, whun I turn on this here light bulb the meter goes up! Get the younguns!"
 
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