What does it cost to keep your air conditioning on when you’re not home? How much electricity does your home or business use when you’re there — or not there?
A new initiative launched last Friday by Cape Light Compact (CLC) will allow an initial 600 residential and commercial customers the opportunity to use smart devices or computers to track electricity usage and learn ways to increase energy efficiency.
Program participants will install a monitor that uploads data on electricity usage to a cloud-based software program for analysis. The results are then transmitted back to the participant’s smart device or computer. The monitor and software are provided by CLC’s vendor, People Power, based in Silicon Valley, California.
“You can see how much electricity you are using in near real time, and compare it with prior days, weeks or even years,” CLC administrator Maggie Downey said in a press release. “The detailed feedback will also include recommendations for how you can reduce electricity usage, and ultimately the program is designed to help consumers gain a better understanding of how they use electricity and what drives their electric bills.”
Those interested in participating in the behavior feedback initiative may apply online to see if they qualify at capelightcompact.org/smart. There is no cost to participate.
“When you take the survey, it will immediately tell you if you met the minimum requirements, and then you’ll get a follow-up notification,” Briana Kane, CLC senior residential program coordinator, told The Times in a phone call Tuesday.
To be eligible, residential and commercial participants must live or have a business on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, and have an active residential or commercial NSTAR electric account with more than 6 months of usage per year. That does not rule out participation by seasonal homeowners, however.
“If someone who owns a second home on the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard leaves the electricity on and it’s generating usage when they’re not there, they can participate,” Ms. Kane said.
Participants must have access to their electric meter to install a monitor on it.
“There is no electrical wiring that requires installation by an electrician or anything like that,” Ms. Kane explained. “Basically, you just plug in a relay — it’s actually called a doughnut — into an outlet, and then you get the monitor and devices to start talking to each other. So in addition, you’ll download an app[lication] for that.”
The app also includes an installation guide.
“It will do some of the Internet connection components for you, instead of you having to manually type in a lot of the information,” Ms. Kane said. “But you do need to have a Wi-Fi router that is always on, because that’s how the monitoring device gets the feedback.”
The device currently is not compatible with solar photovoltaic systems because of the net metering component, Ms. Kane said. “The technology cannot yet differentiate between demand from the house and the generation of electricity.”
The new initiative is phase three of CLC’s Smart Home Energy Monitoring Pilot, Ms. Kane said. In phase one, launched in 2009, GroundedPower of Gloucester installed monitoring systems that it developed in the homes of 100 residential customers on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. They received information about their energy consumption on an online “dashboard,” along with suggestions about how to save energy, which resulted in a 9.3 percent reduction in their daily energy use, according to a consultant’s report.
Phase two, implemented in 2011, opened the program to an additional 280 Cape and Vineyard residents. The technology supplied by the energy platform company Tendril included whole-house wireless monitoring, an in-home display, and a wireless base station designed to upload near real-time data to a web monitoring program.
Ms. Kane said phase three builds on lessons learned from the first two, as well as opening the program to both residential and commercial customers.
“What we had heard from evaluations on phase one and phase two was, ‘I want to be able to do more,’” she said. “People also told us they would like the technology to be more up to date and allow them to view their energy usage on the go, because they aren’t always in front of their computers. This initiative will allow them to download an app to their iPhone, Droid device, or iPads or tablets, as well, and see their current consumption and usage history, and get in some real-time feedback.”
In addition to providing information about energy usage, the app includes a video component, Ms. Kane said.
“So if you have an old smart phone — and it doesn’t need to be on a data plan — you can set that up anywhere around your home and connect it to the phone or device you carry,” she said. “It could be set up to detect motion or to record a video, and it will actually be viewable on your phone or smart device or from your desktop computer. That’s an additional feature, for people interested in some ‘bells and whistles.’”
Customers have also told CLC they would like to be able to control energy usage in their home remotely, Ms. Kane said. With that in mind, CLC is looking at technology such as a control plug that customers could purchase that would allow them to turn a lamp on or off or control the thermostat in their home from their smart device.
Space still available
Ms. Kane said although she has sent approvals off to a number of people that signed up for the energy monitoring program since last Friday, there is still space available.
“What would be awesome would be to get the initiative fully subscribed, with 600 participants, and get everyone up and running over the next month,” she added. “Then, as we evaluate this, if it continues to be a program that people are interested in, we can look at continuing to offer it and allow additional people to sign up. But right now, we’re kind of managing the number at this launch, and seeing where the interest still is. You always hear people say these are things they’re looking for and are interested in, and we just want to make sure that is the case.”
To help get the word out, CLC reached out to organizations in its 21 member towns on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, inviting them to participate in recruiting residents and businesses to take part in the initiative.
Seven organizations responded, including the Chilmark selectmen’s office, Harwich Council on Aging, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional Schools maintenance department, Mashpee recreation department, and energy committees in Bourne, Dennis, and Yarmouth. They will be able to earn up to a total of $10,000 in prizes, based on the number of people they recruit.
“That being said, you don’t have to be a resident or a business in one of those towns to participate,” Ms. Kane said. “Everyone on the Cape and the Vineyard can apply to participate.”
When the electrical industry was deregulated, power companies had to choose whether to be in the distribution or supply business. CLC is a public energy services organization created in 1997 to work with the combined buying power of the region’s 200,000 electric consumers to negotiate for low-cost electricity and other public benefits related to energy, including energy efficiency programs.
CLC is authorized by 21 towns and two counties on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard to choose the electric supplier for their residents and businesses. NSTAR still owns and maintains the poles and wires, and is responsible for billing.
For more information, visit CLC’s website at capelightcompact.org.