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Efficiency by Wi Fi – and Other Tricks

Efficiency by Wi Fi – and Other Tricks, Michaels Energy

The old cliché, “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it”, may be coming to energy efficiency portfolios everywhere.  It may be an unstoppable juggernaut that our industry will have little control over (pun alert).  Instead, it will drive implementers into ambulance chasing[1] and drive evaluators whacky.  What is it?  Controls, especially Wi-Fi consumer control systems.

Millenials, bear with me as I write like an old man, but I will avoid discussions of snow, hills, and walking to school (if you’re over 40 and from the Midwest, you know what I mean).

  • 1970s: AM radio, broadcast TV, LP records
  • Early 1980s: VCR and VHS tape rentals, music on cassette tapes
  • Late 1980s: CDs, some huge video discs I never adopted

In the past 25 years, things moved faster than I did, and I missed certain technologies altogether so the remaining timeline is a bit of a guess to me.

  • 1990s: DVDs, Blockbuster video stores
  • 2000s: MP3 players, Netflix, which killed off Blockbuster
  • Late 2000s-2010s: Blu-ray, satellite radio, streaming audio
  • Current: streaming everything, much of it for minimal annual charges
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As a kid, we had to wait for everything, a week for the next sitcom or evening soap – commercials and the whole bit.  Today there is no waiting for anything.  Cable TV will be toast in the next ten years.  Amazon is planning to offer TV shows for free (with advertising).  The monopolies that everyone hates – needing to pay $100 a month for 140 channels, only three of which are watched –  are in their last days.  Soon, consumers will be able to pay for only what they want, commercial free, like Satellite radio.  If that isn’t for you, there will be 10 other means by which you can participate – and avoid the dreaded cable company.

How might this relate to energy efficiency?  Well, I’ve read with boredom several dozen, if not hundreds, of headlines for efficiency standards for TVs and cable boxes.  Pretty soon, this stuff won’t exist.  It’s hard to improve the efficiency of stuff that is on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Technology.

I finally have a use for the Chrome laptop I won at AESP last fall – watching streaming movies.  Why connect it to my “big” TV 10 feet away, when I can play it 18 inches from my face on the coffee table or on my lap?

For years, it seems smart grid has been the nirvana our industry has dreamed about, but it seems to have been rammed down the tracheas of customers who didn’t want it.  It’s an invasion of privacy.  My kids might be born with two heads.  The dogs will howl incessantly, and the cat will stop using the litter box.  And of course, in California, it will cause cancer, like the chemicals used to clean the hotel room, tale pipes, and hamburgers.

A recent article in Public Utilities Fortnightly (subscription) indicates reluctance and paranoia of two way communication via smart meters may be reversing at a shocking pace.  Consumers are starting to want control over everything, instantly.

It seems that suddenly, consumers are gaining interest in where their energy comes from, what it costs, and what makes up those costs.  Uh oh.  If consumers and energy efficiency stakeholders really knew how costs break down, there will be an uproar across the board.  This is a topic for another day, but I’ll just say the fixed cost for the utility to deliver energy to consumers is much higher than bills indicate, which of course means, the variable cost (energy) is much lower than charged.

Imagine if consumers simply knew what energy supply costs every hour, minute, second of the day.  Do you think behavior would change if people could get up at 3:00 AM to fill up their tank at the local convenience store for $1 per gallon?  Consider for purchased power over the grid, consumers don’t even need to get out of bed for the big whopping loads in their homes.  Throw the wet clothes in the dryer and go to bed.  At 3:00 AM, that guzzler will kick on and dry the clothes at 2 cents per kWh.

Finally, consumers like me will be able to “get credit” for driving down their home temperature at night with air conditioning in the hot summer – and coasting through most of the day.  Thermal storage could go gonzo with real time pricing, smart devices and some relatively simple technologies – for the biggest home guzzlers.  This could include freezers, air conditioning, water heating, and clothes drying.

Freezers, especially stand-alone chest freezers, do not need to run during peak periods at all.  They can coast a long time.  Leave them off.  Refrigerators could coast.  Consumers could know that if you just wait a half hour for that beer, it will be free from the expensive avoided electricity purchase – ah, probably not worth it.

These sorts of earth shaking technologies could be the next wave for utility program market transformation – but only after tariffs are overhauled to reflect true cost in real time.

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[1] Ambulance chasing means implementers reacting to things that will happen anyway and taking credit for it.  It especially applies to large commercial and industrial programs in certain jurisdictions, but certainly not all.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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  • I agree that fixed outweigh variable costs by about 2:1. However our electric utility is no longer able to offer a Time-of-Use rate option, as the Regulator imposed a residential conservation (inclined block) rate structure. Additionally the monthly fixed charges were frozen to force any new or increased revenue requirements to be recovered from the variable “rates” component of customers’ bills only.

    So the opportunity to run your electric “guzzler” clothes dryer at a cheaper 3am rate no longer exists. On a positive note customers have a stronger price signal to invest in the new generation of clothes dryers (condensing, heat pump etc.) coming to market that use less energy. Or they can revert to using grandma’s low-tech clothes line.

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