Monday, August 8, 2011

Smart Grids, Coffee Cans, and Complaining: A Recipe for Change

Smart grid technology might help us solve our energy problem by burning the energy inefficient candle at both ends. If you’ll forgive me for that metaphor, please feel free to read on to find out more.
Like the radio segment points out, smart meters, combined with internet software, can allow consumers to monitor how much electricity they are using throughout the day.
I think a big problem with energy consumers is that the idea of saving energy is too abstract. It’s like the issue of over-population. You can’t really see or interact with overpopulation. We’re crowded sometimes, but then we see those big stretches of land in eastern Oregon and think: “Nah, it’s ok, I’m gonna go ahead and have 8 more kids.” When you start thinking about people as entities requiring the consumption of food, energy, healthcare, etc, you begin to see a clearer picture of the problem.
Electricity bills are the same way. We know that it would benefit us and the community if we used less, but with such a small amount of interaction- a once a month monetary value and a bar graph- it’s harder to make an effort to conserve. Creating software where you can see your daily energy use could help a lot, by reinventing the way we engage with the energy grid.
Personally, I’m a cheapskate. I keep a coffee can full of change at my house. Sometimes I don’t tip my baristas.  Sometimes I even steal change from my friends. Hey, if they cared about it, they wouldn’t have left it on the ground. I’m sure if I got the chance to easily interact with my electric bill, on a day to day basis, I would go the extra mile to keep my expenses low. I’d unplug my appliances, eat by candlelight, not leave my blender on when I leave the house. I’d be a new man. I’d also lesson the demand for power, and help save the planet, all in the name of the some extra cash. Now that’s something I can get behind.
They say that it’ll take 20 years before a majority of people will have smart meters, but I think that’s only if we sit back and wait for them to happen. Start complaining to your power company today, and someday soon- through our prodding, pestering, and cheapskatery- we’ll all be able to save money, and as a byproduct, save the planet. Keep hope alive.
By Jeff Kelsay

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