PG&E + Opower = Highly Customized Energy Info for Free

Tippytoes-laundryinsullationIt blows my mind that as part of this remodel, we are adding tons of lights, speakers, and other energy-consuming pieces to our home, yet our total consumption is expected to go down significantly from what it used to be. It's not so easy for most people to add insulation (we had next to none) or put in a tankless water heater or add LED lighting. Before we were all about weatherstripping our front door, sewing up fabric snakes to cover the gap near the door bottom to keep out the cold, and adding layers when things were cold or keeping drapes shut when it was hot. 

For those of us in PG&E's service area (Northern and Central California) the addition of SmartMeters doesn't only mean utility workers no longer need to check your power meters in person, it also means that you can access your power usage in real time, sometimes in increments as small as 15 minutes. Wonder if your babysitter jacks up the heat or a/c while you're gone? Check your personalized energy report. Think you use next to zero energy while you're out of the house? Your report may say otherwise. All available online, you are able to look at your consumption, even by day with an hourly breakdown, allowing you to see your use throughout the day. You can even overlay your use with the weather to help explain spikes or dips in consumption. All you have to do is log onto your PG&E account online to get started and it's all free.You can get mobile alerts sent out when your use reaches certain thresholds, too, warning you that your potential charges are on the rise before it happens, instead of waiting for the shock of opening up an unexpectedly large bill. Our bill is automatically paid from our bank account, making the messaging option more helpful because I don't regularly see our bill. 

It's all about getting your attention, right? PG&E has teamed up with Opower, a San Francisco software company that uses behavioral science to determine how best to share information. In turn, Opower has come up with ways to not only monitor your own consumption, but for you to check on consumption in comparable home environments, and to compete against others. People do try to keep up with the Joneses, and if you know your neighbor is doing something, you're more likely to do it, too. Using Facebook, you can create groups to compete, which means you can compete against family, friends, schools, Girl Scout troops, whatever you wish to see who uses the least amount of energy. Honestly, I'm highly competitive and this is right up my alley. We've been freezing in our home without any source of heat, and recently, I had to explain that I grew up with this crazy mentality that says no heat until Nov. 1, but the real goal is Nov. 15. If you are tough enough to make it to Nov. 1, you can layer up and make it 15 more days, no? This year is freezing at our house and if I had the option of a heater, I would have used it. Without it, though, I would have rocked any friendly competition.

Let's be honest: PG&E isn't doing this out of the goodness of their heart. California has a long-standing decoupling regulation, which disconnects how much a utility profits from amount of product sold. PG&E's profits cannot be tied to higher usage. Instead the company receives incentives for efficiency, which means they need to encourage customers to use less of their product. Thanks to decoupling, California's per capita energy use has remained at 1970s levels, while the rest of the country has increased by 50%.

I cannot wait until this remodel is complete (for so many reasons…) to compare our energy use to that of a year prior. Also, I'll be able to use it to watch our new energy-saving technologies installed in the house to ensure they're doing their job. 

PG&E relies on their Twitter account to help aid customer service. It's a great resource for tips or if you need help. 

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of PG&E and Opower. I attended an informational luncheon and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

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