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Can Twitter help us to save energy at home?

There’s a house that tweets all of it’s energy usage. And that’s really just the beginning of the information it dumps onto Twitter every day. Even the mousetraps are wired into the matrix…

Residential energy use accounts for a little over 20% of US energy consumption and therefore represents a great opportunity for savings and efficiency. It’s no wonder then that huge companies like Google, Microsoft and GE, together with an ever-growing list of start-ups want to help you save energy at home. If they can save you energy, they’ll likely be saving you money too. And these days saving money is a big business opportunity!

We talk a lot about home energy usage with TerraPass customers and I’ve been thrilled to see the enthusiasm with which our customers embrace products such as the Kill A Watt and Home Powercost Monitor. But let’s be honest, these kinds of accessories are for the fanatics and my hunch is most of the people that buy them replaced their bulbs with CFLs long ago — they’re probably onto the LEDs by now. These are not products for mass-adoption, more’s the pity.

In reality, the American household is going to need a little more help and hand-holding. As the home energy management products and start-ups jockey for room in a crowded space, here are the four trends I see emerging:

**1. Personal action, efficiency**

Not much technology involved in this one, but worth mentioning all the same as there are plenty of those that believe we should all be able to realize significant savings simply by conserving our energy use. Tips abound on the internet, from the simplest (turn the lights off) to some of the more laborious (washing your air conditioner filters). The problem here of course is that if it were worth our while, we’d all be doing these things already — but people are willing to spend those few cents for the convenience. Maybe if energy prices rise significantly that might change.

**2. Spend some to save some**

Whether it’s covering your roof in solar panels or simply installing a programmable thermostat, there are all manner of investments we can make to improve energy consumption in our homes. Subsidizing more efficient appliances and larger-scale retrofits is a favorite of governments, especially when it creates “green jobs” in a down economy.

**3. See it: know the real-time cost**

I’ve seen a couple of different people explain this idea using a grocery store metaphor… so I’ll do my best to replicate that here. When you go to the grocery store, you push the cart around, checking the prices of items as you go. If there’s something you want to buy, you pick it up and put it in the cart. When you’re done you go the checkout and pay for everything in your cart.

So far, so good. But how is this relevant to energy? Well when you buy energy from your utility the experience is totally different. You use the energy through the month and a few weeks later you get the bill for everything you’ve used. It’s as if you’ve had no prices on any of the items in the grocery store and once you get to checkout, you must buy everything in your cart.

Well there are a number of companies working on being able to tell you the real-time prices. It requires varying degrees of technology and the co-operation of utilities. The end goal is that if you know how much energy you’re using in real-time (and how much it’s costing you), you’re likely to use less.

**4. Automation**

Strange confession time. When I was little I used to think it would be very cool to have a huge panel of switches by my bed. From here, I’d be able to control everything in the house: lights, faucets, tv, radios; I could even turn the dishwasher off when it was keeping me awake at night.

A few decades later and this is becoming something of a reality. Instead of a panel of switches it’s a touchscreen (or your iPhone perhaps) from which you can control various devices around the house. You may even want to program them so they come on when electricity is cheapest.

In it’s most advanced forms, this technology will allow your utility to control some of the biggest power-hogs you have and smooth the peaks of the local electricity demand, saving them a considerable amount of money, and generously handing a little of those savings on to you too.

So what’s going to work? And how long will it take? Which of these do you think is most likely to influence energy savings in your home? And at what cost?

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