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Do Residential Customers Really Want to Save Energy?

The Home Area Network is toast according to the trade press as Google pulled the plug on its Power Meter and Microsoft did the same for Holm.  Both were designed to help home owners manage their energy use.  Power Meter was launched with great fanfare in 2009 and utilities feared it would change their relationship with customers.  Google wanted to win the hearts and minds of utility customers eager to stick it to their utility.  Microsoft saw Holm as a way of creating a platform for a home ‘operating system’ that it hoped would do the same for energy management that Windows did for personal computing.

It sounded like a good idea at the time?

Why did both these high tech giants fail so badly and what do energy customers really want?  Every person knows that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you open that utility bill in the dead of winter or the dog days of August.  So why don’t we want to save energy—and money at home?

We do!  We do!

But home energy management solutions have fallen flat for several practical reasons:

  1. Saving energy is a big hassle.  We can gripe at our kids about turning off the lights when they leave a room.  We can set our programmable thermostat to come on just before we get home from work rather than run all day when no one was home.  We can buy energy efficient appliances when the old one needs replacing. But after we’ve done all that our utility bill is still the same or maybe higher.  Why?  Because when we went to buy that high efficiency washer and dryer we also bought a flat screen TV.  We loved that flat screen TV so well we bought another, and then another.  So what’s the problem with that?   Over the last few years the popularity of those flat screen TVs have eaten up all of the energy efficiency savings from all of the other kitchen and laundry appliances sold—over the last 20 years!
  2. Saving energy does not necessarily save a lot of money.  After we do all the things our utility wants us to do to save energy the bottom line is that the savings on my utility bill is just not worth all that hassle or expense.  Maybe I can save a few percent off my bill but that is just a few dollars each month.  So I spent hundreds of dollars MORE for high energy efficient appliances to save a few dollars on energy each month.  I know, I should think about the environment and be responsible.  But meanwhile, my utility is piling on wind and solar energy projects at higher than market costs and charging me more for the privilege of saving the environment.  And in most states that have not yet adopted ‘decoupled rates’ if we do save energy and it reduces utility revenues they raise rates to make up for the lost revenue.  GOTCHA! So why not just let them do it?  They are going to do it to me anyway—why add hassle and even more self imposed cost by going overboard.  It’s just not worth it.
  3. We have smart phones and don’t want more gadgets AND we don’t our utility or government trying to change our lifestyle.  And then there is the real rub.  Why am I being forced to change my lifestyle to satisfy some politically correct politician?  Do they really care about saving energy? If they did they would build the least cost power supply not the highest cost, but that would not be politically correct would it.  But I can’t blame Google or Microsoft for that, can I?  No, but I do not want more gadgets or remote controls or devices I have to learn to program, maintain and listen to my wife complain because it turned off the A/C on a peak load day to satisfy PG&E.  Face it, in a head to head contest where I must choose whether to irritate PG&E or my wife guess who is going to win that contest every time.  I may be cheap but I am not stupid! And I remember Rule # 1—you know that rule:  “The opinions of the husband do not necessarily represent those of management.”

So there you have it.  The real reason Google canned Power Meter and MS Holm got junked is they were a big hassle not worth the savings they produced and they pissed off our spouses by threatening to mess with the A/C.

Just tell all those appliance makers to put sensors and chips into those expensive new appliances, have Microsoft add a HOLM energy management application to Windows, and tell the utilities to send the smart meter data to Google so my home computer can query it and send me a report on my iPhone app so I can make choices on home energy settings while I am safely at work and my wife cannot get her hands around my throat!  Besides I’m going to blame it on Bill Gates—Windows made me do it!

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