W. David Stephenson, a homeland security and disaster management strategist who shares my interest in citizen use of government data, pointed me to this item which suggests that if data produced by smart electric meters were shared in social networks, we could work together to optimize our energy use.
Sounds great. But as I understand it, although these meters report usage in hourly or even 15-minute intervals — thereby enabling utilities to fine-tune pricing and customers to fine-tune usage — they still can’t itemize your bill on a per-appliance basis. That would be a killer application. Imagine a little device that sits between the appliance’s plug and the wall socket, measures the power use, and reports that data over the AC network to a collector. Each device would be coded, you’d map the codes to appliances (TV, refrigerator, toaster, computer), and you’d wind up with a fully itemized accounting of where all the power goes. No guessing about the payback period for a new and more efficient refrigerator, you’d just know. A few years down the road, if your new Energy Star fridge starts to leak, you’ll be alerted to the fact and know to check the seals.
In this scenario the network effects would get really interesting. When contemplating the purchase of that new fridge, for example, you could go beyond the rated performance to the actual performance as measured by other users of that model. And maybe even adjust for factors like the number of kids in the house who are likely to stand in front of the open fridge door pondering their options.
As Amory Lovins points out, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. His MAP/Ming lectures on power use in industry are full of stories about unmeasured energy flows that, when instrumented, yield easy yet dramatic optimizations.
In software, of course, we know this instinctively. To optimize code, we inject instrumentation that shows us the hot spots where programs spend inordinate amounts of time. We need to inject the same kind of instrumentation into the electrical devices in our homes. I’m no engineer so I’m just asking: Is there conceivably a cheap, low-tech, easily-installed way to do it?