At a recent panel discussion sponsored by Google and GE, experts - among them, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner - came together to discuss the smart grid and the changing technology it requires. They couldn't have timed it better. The panel began just as President Obama was signing the stimulus bill, which ensured $80 billion in spending on renewable energy and efficiency. Of those funds, $11 billion in grant money will go towards the modernization of our electric grid.
The event came on the heels of last week's announcement from Google that they'll be developing technology to help consumers interpret data from smart meters to better control their electricity bills. Tech start-up Tendril, which produces smart meters and other energy data applications, participated in the panel and also demoed their solution. With Tendril's Residential Energy Ecosystem, or TREE, consumers can expect to save at least 10% on their bill, said CEO Adrian Tuck, who spoke on the panel.
"We thought people would be motivated to save money or save the planet," said Tuck. "It turns out, what they want is to beat their neighbors."
Tendril appeals to our competitive nature by allowing people to keep track of the cost of their utility bill from day to day, and compared to other homes near them, via an online portal. By knowing when their energy usage spikes, consumers can manage their bill to ensure there are no surprises at the end of the month. With a forthcoming iPhone application, consumers can even adjust their thermostat settings when they are out of the house, and set them to climb back towards a desired temperature as they get closer to home.
As other bloggers had pointed out last week, smart metering is still not perfect. Tendril's devices still don't have the ability to tell you how much power your individual appliances are consuming. For now, you can figure out how much your fridge, TV, dryer and other devices are costing you either statistically, or through the use of smart outlets, which can monitor the usage of an individual device. Eventually, said Tuck, smart meters could be built into all major appliances, so they could record their own energy consumption. Tendril is still working out how they will work with Google's open platform for energy data.
So far, Tendril's in testing mode with some town-size pilot programs, but when the devices roll out nationwide, they'll be provided by 29 utility companies that cover 56 million homes - about half the homes in America said Tuck. If a utility doesn't provide a smart meter, Tendril's can be purchased for about $100, which will pay for itself in savings after six months.
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