Can Smart Meters Drive Behavior Change

Beyond just changing light bulbs and cutting vampire supply power sources, people are more likely to make higher impact change if they understand the total energy output of their homes. Enter smart meter visualizations.



The Wattson has been the premier example of a smart meter – a beautiful object that tells you in pounds (it’s a UK company) or kilowatt hours your total energy consumption. But the US version of smart meters are utilizing data visualization techniques that could be more compelling. Here are three ways smart metering companies will offer tools for behavior change:

1. My meter gives me the power

Right now energy use is not linked to energy supply and demand on the grid. Utilities across the US are in drastic need of an overhaul, and some of them are investing not just in smart grids but in smart metering as they begin their upgrades.

The standard meters is strong, un-tamperable, and passively measure electricity. They also require an expensive service staff to come and check the meter, with no remote reporting, and they cannot measure energy given back to the grid (in the case of homes that rely on solar or other forms of energy that generate more than they can consume). Smart meters are connected electronically to the grid, and can do all of these things, including serving as a house-based thermostat, giving “power” to the end user to connect their actions with their electricity bill.

2. That’s how much is that toaster costing me?  

The idea is that a web interface will be the primary control thermostat for the entire house, with charts that show how much each appliance costs. You will be able to see how much your toaster, plasma television, and refrigerator actually cost you in dollars and kilowatt hours. Once you understand the power supply, you can make the choice yourself of how much you should be using.

3. We’re greener than the Joneses

As reported by The New York Times Green Inc. blog, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, a utility serving 765,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas, has recently teamed up in a pilot programwith Silver Spring Networks, a network hardware and software provider specifically marketing to utilities, and Greenbox, a company based in San Bruno, Calif., that provides the Web-based energy monitoring software.



A live demo of the system shows how much energy my own home draws, but also compared to my local community. Just as the West Village of NYC has higher recycling rates because of neighbor peer pressure (we see each other’s trash contribution and scold those that don’t comply), we’ll also be able to shame our neighbors that take extra long showers or burn their air conditioners on cool spring days. I’m looking forward to that future.