Why is tracking energy consumption SO HARD!

I'm going to admit it: I haven't tracked my utility bills for almost 6 months.

Well, that's not totally true. I do glance at them for a few seconds when I get an email alert that my bank account will be automatically drafted the bill amount, but that's about it.

My massive electric utility company sends me an email with 3 sentences when it's time for them to charge me for the services they provide:

Your new paperless bill is now available for viewing. To view your bill, click here. The bill amount will be automatically drafted from your bank account on the date shown.

They then show the amount and the date the bill is due.

My natural gas company doesn't even show me the amount due.  I have to log in for that.  Bleh...I have more important things to do.

But why does it have to be so hard?  Even me, a blogger on home energy conservation is too busy to log in to another website or analyze another energy bill.  What percentage of Americans are actually going to take the time to do this detailed analysis?

We've written about home energy monitoring strategy, but why don't more people actually spend the time to really monitor their home energy consumption?  Some of the reasons could be why social networking wont friend energy conservation.  Is it because people are too busy, receive too much spam and junk mail, don't care (because in some places energy is so cheap).  For me it's partly all of the above.

I still care about energy conservation.  I always will.  But we reach a point where we get comfortable in our lives, and unless we are experiencing pain (with high energy costs), we won't make any effort to change.  But what if the utilities made it easier on us?  What if in their emails telling us they are going to take money from our bank accounts (which they deserve) they provided a YOY comparison of our energy consumption, or an energy conservation tip, or a comparison of our home vs. similar sized homes of our neighbors.   It's hard for people to track energy consumption, so can you utilities please make it easier?


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Which is why we need the <a href="" rel="nofollow">green button</a>. Unleash enough clever people to write portable (as in from utility to utility) apps, widgets, websites, etc to slice &amp; dice this info, and a few really great ideas should rise to the top...
ckmapawatt's picture
Wow, I hadn't heard of that but it's exactly what is needed! After thinking a lot about the topic, I'm convinced energy monitoring wont really take off without coordination with the utility, so a Green Button would be amazing. Think about all the iphone apps that would be released! I wonder how <a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">OPower</a> feels about this, it would seem that it would be a competitor to them, unless they are helping utilities coordinate this data.
“We at Blue Line have been trying to make energy reporting and conservation easy for homeowners for closing in on 10 years, but getting the word out on options is still an uphill battle. We have brought to market products ranging from a standalone display that communicates with a sensor on your meter, all the way to WiFi accessory devices that take the data and through your broadband connection, to application partners where you can analyze and track usage over time. So while some utilities are deploying measures to help their customers they often don’t go far enough and some others do nothing. Hopefully we can be a tool for those stuck in the middle with no visibility because as we know “You can't manage what you can't measure” Terrye Hunt Controller ( BlueLine Innovations )
I hate to say anything nice about the City of Austin, but their utility statements show 13-month bar graphs for electricity, water and wastewater usage.
Chris already knows this but I have an Excel spreadsheet that has three tabs: Electricity, Natural Gas and Water. I fill in the usage units and total bill cost every month. I have line graphs that show year-over-year data that makes it easy for me to track consumption. (my historic data goes back to Jan 2007) I keep the spreadsheet in my dropbox so it's always nearby when I'm paying bills. ( I also try to keep track of specific events that might affect usage and the date when they occurred. This allows me to analyze how each improvement or event affects my energy usage. I want to track transportation fuel consumption by vehicle but I don't have a good mobile solution for entering the data at the gas/diesel pump. I'm convinced that the right way to track all energy usage is to have a combination of a mobile app and integration with the utility data. For me, that is all I need to have the ability to crunch numbers and see how I'm doing at any given time. (oh yeah, and social integration so I can share my consumption with others!) -P
Heh, I have the same thing. Spreadsheet. Back to 2007. We should compare notes ;) I've recently tried to normalize heating energy to heating degree days, that was a fun adventure. opower is working on the social thing...
Even if you keep the monthly data in a spreadsheet or have utilities that show monthly usage over the last year, it's next to impossible to tie spikes or drops in usage to particular events, usage habits, or appliances. Because of this it's hard to make meaningful changes to our habits.
Hi Jennifer, Agreed, but I can see trends and some changes since I'm recording large events as well. For example, when I had a plumber come out and fix running toilets and any leaky faucets, I could see the change easily over the next six months on the year over year line chart.. Same with when I replaced builder's grade toilets with 1.28gpf efficient models. This is specific to water though. It has been harder for me to see trends with natural gas and electricity except when I also look at avg. monthly temperature for the same period but year over year. However, I do see trends with big energy events like when I swapped out close to 100 incandescent bulbs for CFLs or when I added a solar hot water pre-heat system to my home. (I have an electric hot water heater) Probably the biggest benefit for me is that it keeps me thinking about energy conservation so I tend to make better choices with each of the small items and I think it eventually adds up! -P
Eric, I'll send you my spreadsheet if you send me yours! It's on its way. -P
When my older kid decided daily showers were necessary, I definitely saw a spike. When I put in a 1.6gpm shower head, that spike went back down. :) Heating is a lot harder to track well, due to weather variation. You have to get tricky with heating degree days (see my crack at it <a href="" rel="nofollow">here</a>) I tried to do that analysis by periods between work - initial attic insulation, wall insulation, new heating zone in basement - and so far, nothing super obvious has jumped out (which is frustrating, since all that was quite a lot of work!) For electricity, I have much more fine-grained data, and that is quite useful. In particular I keep track of the "always on" minimum power draw in the house, to make sure no new vampire showed up. An extra 20W over the course of a year can really add up!


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