You Can Lead a Horse to Efficiency, but You Can’t Make Him Green

Sections: Green Home Tech, HVAC, Smart Home

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Increase your energy efficiency with Control4 climate controlSpeaking of thermostats… EarthTechling has an interesting new piece (by way of Breaking Energy) about the uphill battle that policy makers and leaders in green energy face when trying to get customers more interested in energy efficiency. There’s a disconnect, it seems, between what consumers say they want — that being efficiency — and what they’re actually willing to spend money on when it comes to HVAC systems and other potential points of energy conservation, which boils down to comfort, convenience, and control.

[G]etting energy end-users involved in efficiency is “a little bit of an enigma”, said Vice-President of Smart Grid Solutions Jeremy Eaton at the Honeywell Users Group conference in Phoenix, Arizona this week. “No one’s actually cracked the nut yet.”

I think the biggest problem here is that there’s not just one nut when it comes to consumers. (And speaking as a resident of Alabama, I can assure you: there are actually a whole lot of nuts.)

The central thesis of the story, it seems, is that one way to get consumers more active in energy efficiency is to tie it in with those things they actually want; to make energy savings a byproduct of comfort, convenience, and control.

“People already have internet, they already have broadband, they already have a smart phone,” Eaton said. “Let’s use the tools they already bought for other reasons and use those to give them comfort, convenience, and control, and we’ll get energy efficiency along with it.”

Data collected from HBS thermostats that are already in use show that both the percentage of time these thermostats are in schedule mode, and the percentage of time they are operated remotely, via device, are over 80%. “This solves the problem, but not by addressing it directly, Eaton said.

Speaking as someone who practically obsesses about energy efficiency, though, I think this is a bit of a dual-edged approach. I tend to keep my thermostat set a bit higher than most people, but there have been any number of nights where I would crawl into bed, start to sweat, and know that there was no chance of sleep until I knocked a couple of degrees off the temperature of my bedroom. It used to be, when I had an older, dumber programmable thermostat, I would sooner get out of bed, grab the floor fan out of my office, and plug it up by the bed than walk to the front of the house and adjust the thermostat. These days, though, more often than not I simply fire up my ecobee app and dial the air conditioner down to 74° for a couple of hours and rest in peace.

And again, I’m already a bit of an efficiency nut. Full confession, though: by making my thermostat more convenient, it’s also made me a little lazier. And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that.

Instead of focusing on convenience, I think a smart approach would be to focus on money. I know the one thing that makes me more likely to get out of bed and grab the fan instead of reaching for the app and dialing down the AC is Home IQ, which lets me see exactly how much energy my HVAC system is using, and how often. The other motivator is the energy report that Alabama Power sends out quarterly (if only it were monthly…). My dad, being the hardcore Republican than it is, has been politically programmed to actually view energy conservation in a negative light when it’s framed as an environmental issue. And yet, as soon as our quarterly energy savings report comes in, we’re usually on the phone comparing numbers for bragging rights. He couldn’t care less about rising sea levels and vanishing polar bears. But when a dollar sign is involved…

Alabama Power Energy Efficiency Report

As cynical as it may seem, I think that’s ultimately the key. Promote both energy efficiency and money savings together, and you’ve reached two nuts in one fell swoop. If, instead of just saying, “You used 596 kWh, 35% less electricity than homes like yours,” my energy report (or, heck, my thermostat) added, “You spent $X this quarter, compared to $X for homes comparable to yours,” I think a lot more people would get on board with this whole efficiency thing. Maybe not so much here in the River Region of Alabama, where our hydroelectric power is relatively very green (not to mention ridiculously cheap; if my power bill ever tops $150 per month I start to freak out).

But when it comes to reducing our impact on the environment — and our pocketbooks — every little bit helps.

Read [EarthTechling: Getting Consumers Interested In Energy Efficiency Tricky]

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  • Ted Kidd

    “You spent $X this quarter, compared to $X for homes comparable to yours,” I think a lot more people would get on board with this whole efficiency thing.”

    Nicely put. Makes the point people want to gauge opportunity based upon comparison. “I’m only $15 off the number that seems reasonable, don’t think I’ll chase that too hard” vs “Holy Cow, $200 more than my neighbor, maybe we should have an energy audit!”

    The harder you make people dig for meaningful information, the fewer you’ll have digging.

    Here’s a little calculator folks might find helpful: