The main supposition behind these energy-management and monitoring systems is that seeing a more direct relationship between flicking a switch and energy usage may cause people to be more conservative in their energy use. Consumers will also be more inclined to find ways to improve the efficiency of existing appliances or heating and air conditioning systems. On its PowerMeter Web site, Google states that studies indicate people can save between 5 and 15 percent on monthly bills simply by having access to their household's energy information [source: Google].
Some consumers have even been filled with a sense of competition, comparing their energy savings with that of friends or neighbors posted on utility companies' Web sites. Utilities and providers of energy-management systems generally offer information about how to be more energy efficient, such as by covering a hot-water heater with insulation [source: Shogren]. Following these tips can yield even greater savings.
In the future, communication between power companies and users is expected to increase, making for a more collaborative relationship. If you turn on your pool heater, for example, you may receive an e-mail or text message from your utility provider reminding you that it would be cheaper to run that heater later in the day. Similarly, some utilities are already offering variable pricing depending on the time of day -- energy-production costs oscillate throughout the day for electrical companies -- and pairing this variable pricing with smart meters, Web-based energy monitors and the like.
These tools should only become more useful in the future, as efforts at establishing a national smart grid take off and electricity providers begin providing more data -- and possibly in a standardized format -- to customers, as advocated by Google [source: St. John]. There remain some divisions about whether utilities will agree on one method for communicating data through smart meters. There's also some debate about what sort of wireless standard to use, with ZigBee and RF mesh being popular in the United States and Canada [source: St. John]. For now, at least, there are many competing standards for how these programs and devices operate, and utility companies appear reluctant to open up their data to third-party developers [source: St. John].
For more information about conserving energy at home and other related topics, look over the links on the next page.