Will society unplug?

May 22, 2009
By Elisa Wood May 21, 2009 As a society, we’re accused of being too plugged-in, too reliant on our computers, televisions, and charged-up cell phones. Turns out, we are willing to unplug. A study by SmartPower (http://www.smartpower.org/) found that unplugging unused appliances, those sucking up vampire energy, is an energy savings act people are willing […]

By Elisa Wood

May 21, 2009

As a society, we’re accused of being too plugged-in, too reliant on our computers, televisions, and charged-up cell phones. Turns out, we are willing to unplug.

A study by SmartPower (http://www.smartpower.org/) found that unplugging unused appliances, those sucking up vampire energy, is an energy savings act people are willing to do. And they don’t just say they will unplug – they do unplug.

This is an important distinction because often people tell researchers that they intend to conserve power or buy renewable energy. But when it comes time to do act, they balk. SmartPower was able to discern where and when people walk-the-walk through a “Living Diary” study, part of a two-year effort in New England to see how the economy, volatile energy prices and environmental concerns motivate consumers.

Smartpower followed the activities of 81 people for two weeks. The participants were given daily questions, homework and tasks, which led to over 1,000 diary entries.

“Unplugging was the most frequent efficiency experience. Panelists reported that it was the easiest to perform, required the least sacrifice and was the most universally relevant to all participants,” SmartPower said in recent comments filed before the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control.

Such research becomes increasingly important as the industry seeks ways to spur consumers to act in a more energy efficient way, an approach known as “residential behavioral strategy.”

In Connecticut, SmartPower and two other companies have proposed an ambitious behavioral strategy program intended to encourage people to cut energy use 20% by 2020. The trio – which also includes Earth Markets (http://earthmarkets.com/), a finance company, and Efficiency 2.0 (http://efficiency20.com/), a software firm – offers consumers several goodies, among them free compact fluorescent lights and software to monitor energy use online.

But that’s not all. The program includes two of the biggest all-time motivators for the US consumer: beating the Jones and earning cash. Communities compete to see who saves the most energy and the results appear on line for all to see. In addition, participants have the chance to earn money through the sale of efficiency certificates or “white tags,” a currency of value in Connecticut. Consumers and businesses can earn a certificate for each megawatthour of energy they save. They sell the white tags to utilities and others who must, under state law, produce or buy a certain number each year to help the state achieve its efficiency goals.

The program must still win regulatory approval (http://www.dpuc.state.ct.us/dockcurr.nsf/(Web+Main+View/Search+Electric)?OpenView&StartKey=05-07-19RE02) . But if it does, its 200,000 customers would not only earn money from white tags but also save money on their energy bills – for a total financial gain estimated to be $100 million.

Not a bad benefit. Definitely worth the time of unplugging the appliances at night.

Visit Elisa Wood at www.realenergywriters.com and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

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