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Texans take a shine to in-home energy displays

A simple gadget that displays real-time energy usage from a smart meter prompted consumers to save energy in CenterPoint Energy smart-grid pilot.

A simple display connected to a smart meter has effectively helped consumers trim energy use, a smart-grid pilot showed.

Electric utility CenterPoint Energy and the Department of Energy yesterday announced the results of a pilot program with 500 residential electricity customers in the Houston area. Overall, it found that the regular feedback on energy use prompted people to lower consumption.

An in-home display used in CenterPoint Energy's smart-grid pilot program.
An in-home display used in CenterPoint Energy's smart-grid pilot program. CenterPoint Energy

The in-home display is a battery-powered device which can be placed on a table top or attached to the refrigerator. Getting information from a smart meter, it displays real-time power use, a forecast of the monthly bill, and changes to rates based on the time of day.

Seventy one percent of the respondents to a survey said they have already taken steps to lower their energy usage, with turning off lights being the number one item. After lighting, people took other common efficiency steps such as adjusting the thermostat, switching to energy-efficient lighting, and installing a programmable thermostat.

Nearly all people said they were satisfied with the device and 97 percent said they will definitely or will probably continue to use it. People can also go to a Web site to get real time information, which is updated every 15 minutes, as well as monthly and yearly data.

CenterPoint Energy said that the pilot, which was partially funded by $200 million from the federal stimulus act, shows that providing real-time information can affect consumer behavior. The smart meters also allow retail energy providers to read the meters remotely, a change that has eliminated almost 1.5 million routine service calls since 2009, CenterPoint Energy said.

The in-home display CenterPoint Energy chose to use is relatively simple compared to more high-end energy management systems that both display information and allow people to remotely control thermostats and appliances.

Texas is one of the best proving grounds for home energy management systems because millions of smart meters are already installed, making it easier to get energy information more frequently than the monthly paper billing cycle.

Updated on July 29 with corrections. CenterPoint Energy is utility, not a retail electricity provider, so it will not offer in-home displays to consumers in the future as it did in this pilot.