In a project with the potential to influence energy production, consumption and policy in Maine, 50 homeowners in the Blue Hill area will partner with a local energy-monitoring company and a University of Maine researcher in a year-long study of residential electricity use. The goal is to see whether homeowners adopt energy-conserving strategies once they understand the details of their usage, according to Nathan Weise, UMaine professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“We will build 50 separate profiles of residential energy use in Maine,” Weise says. “The key is for people to see with their own eyes when and how their household electricity is consumed on a circuit-by-circuit basis.”
With about $90,000 in funding from the quasi-governmental agency Efficiency Maine, PowerWise Systems of Blue Hill will install energy monitors at no cost to the participating homeowners. Weise and a team of UMaine students will analyze data from the monitors and provide information to the individual participants. At the end of the study, the data will be aggregated – without identifying the participants – and will be made available to educators, energy efficiency agencies like Efficiency Maine, and other groups.
Homeowners in the study will be able to see exactly how much electricity is used in each circuit on their home panels, including the time of day the power is consumed. Over time, Weise says, clear patterns will emerge and homeowners can consider strategies for lowering their usage and cost.
In some areas of the country, residential electricity is subject to time-of-day pricing, according to Weise, with morning and evening hours typically being the most expensive. Similar pricing structures are under consideration in Maine. Simple strategies such as setting dishwashers or washing machines to operate during cheaper late-night hours can save money while decreasing the load on the local power grid, Weise notes. The monitors also will reveal how much electricity is used by major appliances such as refrigerators and dryers, providing homeowners with an incentive to consider buying newer models that consume less energy. Smaller investments such as energy-saving lightbulbs and switches that turn off the flow of “phantom power” to computers and other electronics can seem more attractive when consumers have the actual figures before them, Weise says.
The usage data will be studied in three-month segments. During stage 1, homeowners will have no access to their usage data and will maintain their usual behaviors. In stage 2, homeowners will be able to see their usage on a secure Web site and make changes themselves in their electricity use. In stages 3 and 4, Weise and his students will consult individually with participating homeowners to suggest energy-saving changes based on their individual data, and PowerWise staff will be available to offer additional information and support.
Homeowners in the study will not be required to make any changes, and can keep the monitors in their homes for an additional year if they choose.
PowerWise Systems provides energy monitoring and education solutions to homes, businesses, schools and institutions. Originally named Powerhouse Dynamics, the company developed one of the first interactive energy monitors on the market. The Powerhouse Dynamics monitor used in the Blue Hill study can keep track of up to 22 individual circuits as well as the total power used in each home.
“This is the first controlled study in the United States to monitor so many residences with such detailed data,” says Joanne Steenberg, vice president of PowerWise. “This study may change how homeowners, power companies and policymakers view energy use, and will create a treasury of information that can be used in education.”