New energy monitoring initiative with PowerWise, UMaine, and Efficiency Maine

Study of community-wide energy use may have national implications

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

February 8th, 2012 

PowerWise is conducting a study about home energy consumption with an Efficiency Maine grant. Fifty homes in Blue Peninsula communities will have electricity-monitoring systems installed at no cost to the homeowner, and homeowners will track their energy use for one year. PowerWise has enlisted a team from the University of Maine to help analyze and report on the data.

“This is the first controlled study in the United States to monitor so many residences with such detailed data,” said Joanne Steenberg, Vice President of PowerWise. “This study may change how homeowners, power companies, and policy makers view energy use, and will create a treasury of information that can be used in exciting ways in education.”

PowerWise’s proposal grew out of a plan first suggested by Steenberg for monitoring a whole community, which could then be a model for the country in reducing energy use on a wide scale. The units, made by Powerhouse Dynamics, can monitor 22 individual circuit breakers as well as the total power used in the home. As homeowners become more aware of their electricity usage through the eMonitor, PowerWise expects to see reductions in energy use over time.

“When people recognize trends in their energy use and see exactly when and where they use energy in their homes on a daily basis, they can make informed decisions on energy use and cost,” said Tim Vrabel, Efficiency Maine’s Strategic Initiatives Specialist. “Consumers who have information and data can make lifestyle choices that can reduce their energy bills. This kind of real-world, real-time data would also be of critical importance in assessing our energy efficiency programs and helping to craft future initiatives.”

Each resident will receive an eMonitor with free installation and two years of data collection service. The first three months comprising Phase I will be a blind study, with homeowners not able to access the eMonitor data about their electricity use. During the next three-month Phase II period, PowerWise will provide homeowners with the ability to view and manage their energy use in the eMonitor web-based dashboard, as well as receive instructions on how to set up energy safety alerts, identify phantom power consumption, and control thermostat settings over the Internet.

Phase III includes the final six months of the study and begins with an educational meeting, at which Dr. Weise will provide a personal report for each home, detailing its energy patterns and providing recommendations for future energy-saving measures. PowerWise will continue to communicate with residents throughout the duration of the study, giving opportunities for residents to connect with each other and share experiences, challenges, and what has worked for them.

The data resulting from the study, without identifying the identity of the residents involved, will be of immense value to educators and energy efficiency agencies like Efficiency Maine. The study is expected to identify residential energy usage patterns, such as areas of heavy usage, times of heaviest use, and what the excess energy is used for. Data from the study can potentially be used to identify future areas of study in energy use in Maine and beyond. Bangor Hydro Electric company is participating in the study to learn more about how customers might respond to a new ‘Dynamic Pricing” model, where the cost of electricity varies according to the time of day.