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Tech coalition: You need real-time energy data

Google, GE, and others push governments at Cop15 climate talks to give consumers better tools to promote energy efficiency and enable the smart grid.

At the Cop15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen on Tuesday, a group of advocacy groups and high-tech companies including Google and Intel urged governments to ensure consumers get real-time information on energy use.

Giving consumers regular data on consumption will help them take steps to be more energy-efficient and will be an effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to the coalition.

Studies have shown (click for PDF) that access to detailed information, rather than only getting a monthly bill, can reduce energy use by 15 percent in a home.

When aggregated at large scale, these savings would be significant. If all households in the developed countries achieved a 15 percent energy savings by 2020, it would be the equivalent of taking 200 million cars of the road in the European Union and shutting down 124 coal power plants, according to the coalition.

"By empowering citizens with information and tools for managing energy, governments and businesses around the world can harness the power of hundreds of millions of people to fight climate change--and save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in the process," the group statement said.

The call to action was signed by Google, General Electric, Intel, Dow, Whirlpool, venture capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers along with a number of non-governmental organizations, including the National Resource Defense Council, The Climate Group, the Alliance to Save Energy, The Energy Future, and the Center for American Progress.

There are already a handful of home energy monitoring displays available. But millions more will be installed in the coming years as part of utility-run smart-grid programs, although not all home energy displays need a smart meter to function. More sophisticated products will provide information on a small display, the Web, or a TV, and give consumers recommendations on how to program appliances and lighting for efficiency.

Although real-time energy information is helpful, time-of-use electricity prices are also needed to give consumers financial incentive to use energy-hungry appliances, such as dishwashers, at off-peak times.

The coalition at Copenhagen said that national governments should ensure consumer have access to real-time or near real-time energy use data; pricing; and the carbon intensity of electricity sources.