Save Energy. Save Money.

Archive for November, 2011

The Utility Bill — Friend or Foe?

Do you read your utility bill carefully? What do you learn? “Not very much,” says a study released last week by the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The authors conclude that there is a missed opportunity to communicate clearly and with focus to residential consumers.


This graph shows what their survey found is presented in monthly bills:

Elements of Utility Bills

(Survey by ACEEE, November 2011)

A nationwide survey shows the most common elmenets and their placement on the utility bill





The utility bill is a monthly opportunity to speak to the consumer. Notice that nearly 25% of bills put current usage on page 2 or page 3. Clearly these bills are not organized for high-impact information presentation! Similarly, rates are not presented on all bills: hard to save when the price is not presented! The authors of the survey have a deeper wish-list: they would like to see peer-to-peer comparisons of energy usage, and useful information about energy efficiency. Both of these factors could help consumers make informed decisions, and cut down on customer service calls.


What’s so hard about changing a utility bill? Two things: software and regulations. First, utility billing systems are often quite old and hard to change. They need modernization. Second, a legacy of regulatory decisions adds a long list of fees and taxes to most bills. These must be presented to the consumer (leading to those pages and pages of confusion!). Put the two factors together, and you get a pound of paper and little useful information.


But, as the ACEEE authors point out, life will only get more confusing when smart meters are fully installed. How will consumers understand all that data? How will they understand time-of-day charges? The utility bill is a missed opportunity to smooth the way for these upgrades.


Utilities are also pushing consumers toward online billing, but if this week’s billing upgrade by PG&E is any sign, there is a way to go. PG&E, Northern California’s dominant utility, is requiring holders of online accounts to reconfirm their acceptance of terms and conditions. But, as many customers don’t remember their usernames and passwords, the utility will have to rebuild their online participation rates.


Utility bills—friend or foe? Send us your thoughts.


PS If you sign up for WattzOn’s free service, we’ll send you a consumer-friendly analysis of your utility bill each month. It’s part of our service to help consumers save energy.


For more information, see “The State of the Utility Bill”, November 2011, ACEEE.


Read Article     

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Take Big Jump in 2010

The 2010 results on CO2 emissions are out, and the news is not good. Emissions in 2010 are up, and beyond the levels expected.


Here is a graph from the International Energy Agency that tells the story:

The graph shows that emissions took a dip in 2008–2009 as a result of the global recession, and then growth came roaring back in 2010. The 2010 increase is the largest single-year increase in the data series, which has data back to the 1750s. (The series is available from Oak Ridge National Labs.) Emissions are up by 5% since their 2008 dip.


The colored lines in the graph show various projections from the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the worldwide group of scientists and policy analysts who have developed a coordinated view of our planet’s future. The black line, the data, is bursting through the colored lines, meaning that we are exceeding most projections. Although the projections were made recently (in 2007), we are already on the way to the worst-case scenario envisioned then.


So that’s the grim news about the big picture. Digging one layer deeper, the sources of the increase are revealing:


• In the global emissions downturn of 2008–2009, China’s emissions continued to grow steadily, while Europe’s fell

• In 2010, emissions grew in both China and the U.S., with the two countries accounting for more than 40% of the 2010 increase

• 80% of the emissions increase is coming from permanent infrastructure changes—such as new power plants—meaning it will be hard to make them go away.


So what’s a person to do? Fast-rising emissions can seem daunting. We suggest two things: Personal Action and Policy Changes.


As you already know, WattzOn can help you find ways to save energy at home and in your daily life. We also think that policy changes—such as appliance standards—will nudge consumers toward ever more energy savings. Look for more on both of these topics in the coming months.


While consumer decisions may seem too small to make a difference, we are a world of consumers: that is why we produce things, and that is where the energy is being used. How we consume makes a difference.

Read Article