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Old homes get smart

Smart metering is coming. Within a decade, you’ll know exactly how much every flip of a switch or turn of a knob costs in monthly utility charges.

The Times profiles two British seaside towns on the forefront of the low-tech energy efficiency revolution. Take, for example, Hove residents Brenda and Jeffrey Marchant, owners of a typical Victorian house. The Marchants were always energy-thrifty, but instant feedback is a uniquely motivating force.

> Turn on a computer and the device — a type of so-called smart meter — goes from 300 watts to 400 watts. Turn off a light and it goes from 299 to 215. At 500, the meter is set to sound an alarm.

> “I’ve become like one of Pavlov’s dogs,” Mrs. Marchant said. “Every time it bleeps I think I’m going to take one of those pans off the stove. I’d do anything to make it stop. It helps you change your habits.”

Homeowners are insulating attics and swapping out windows as part of an ambitious effort to drop the city’s emissions 20% by 2012. None of the efficiency measures are particularly exotic, and most pay for themselves. The city provides grants for some of the more expensive items, such as solar water heaters.

The U.S., of course, lags, but already technology providers are working on more sophisticated forms of smart meter that can adjust power consumption automatically by controlling appliances. When woven together into a smart grid, these systems can help reduce peak power demand.

Demand management is good for the environment, and also good for utilities. Southern California Edison plans to distribute smart meters to all 5.3 million customers by 2012. Such a program would have been financially infeasible just a few years ago. With prices on the technology dropping, the utility now expects to at least break even.

And, of course, you early adopters can get a jump start on the electricity savings by installing your own home energy monitor.

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