How much do you think about when you use power? For most Americans, how much power used is important because it impacts cost, but when the power is used doesn't really enter the mind. However, when power is used can matter just as much for the power company. Power costs more to produce in high demand times than in low demand times, so prices should really depend on time. With society moving to greater energy efficiency and less waste, more and more power companies are instituting smart grid policies. In these systems, people are not only billed according to the cost of production with time accounted for but are also given information on exactly how they use power and tips on minimizing the cost. Trials so far have been a major success, with dual benefits of saving an average of 8-10% costs and easing the transition to green power.
In the GReSBAS project in Europe, an app was deployed that provides real-time monitoring of energy consumption. It allowed users to see exactly how their power bill was being generated and recommended ways to reduce the bill such as running power intensive dishwashers at night. The app gamified the energy efficiency problem, which has previously had a hard time garnering public engagement. Traditionally, consumers have been given access to their information and then been left alone, under the assumption that they would act to save costs and reduce consumption. However, people have generally ignored these programs after the first few months, going back to their normal habits.
GReSBAS hopes to address this by encouraging competition between groups, with some of the savings held onto to act as prizes for the winners. This creates the incentive of winning something, and heavily promoted engagement in the test run in Turkey. This competition is also reinforced through virtue signaling in many communities. Community acknowledgment that you have been environmentally conscious is a good reason for many to participate.
The early results are good. After the 70-day pilot trial in Turkey, participants saved an amount that equates to roughly one month's power a year. This is a substantial amount of money for many people and is a very good sign of the app working. Consumers did switch to more efficient consumption times, and reduced wasteful behavior like running not full enough loads of laundry.
The hope is that as consumers compete and learn how to optimize their consumption, their lifelong behavior will change. For many people, differing prices throughout the day are not even something they know about, so by providing this information in an actionable way, long term behavior change will occur where previous programs have failed. To that end, the app also allows selecting the areas that are deemed as important to the individual consumer. Many sub-optimal behaviors are that way for a reason, and the app goes to great lengths to make sure it is not nagging the user about things they don't care about; only providing helpful nudges.
This program is finally reaching development stages because of the 2030 energy goals for the European Commission. New regulations mandating greater renewable usage have the potential to destabilize grids. Especially in areas like Turkey, which already suffers from frequent power outages, relying more on solar could cause problems. By training consumers to work around the natural power fluctuation, rather than expecting it to work around them, greater power stability can be achieved.
An area of great hope is that as this program expands very little extra infrastructure is needed. In many places, power companies are already required to provide this information to the government, so making it additionally available to consumers would require minimal investment. Because it is not cost prohibitive, hopes are high among the industry. People can see how and why the program works, so if engagement can be kept up there is no reason it should not be a great success!
Image sourced from: GReSBAS