The utility bills of others

power lines shoes

Well, that probably doesn't help.

National Grid's CEO, Steve Holliday, was in town yesterday to speak at Albany NanoTech. According to the TU, Holliday said New Yorkers need be smarter about how they use electricity -- and apparently National Grid is working up a new rate structure that will encourage that. These new rates are still a few years off.

But there's something that NG could do today (well, not today, but probably soon) to start pushing things in the right direction. And involves getting customers (that is, you and us) to ask: Whose is bigger?

Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State and one of the kings of social psychology, has done research that indicates people will cut down on the amount of electricity they use if you show them how their usage compares to that of their neighbors. Apparently it's even more convincing than showing people how to save money (or the environment).

A utility in Sacramento has actually put this idea to use -- the statements for thousands of customers now include bar charts showing them how piggy they are about electricity. And it appears to be reducing power consumption. Cialdini is involved with a company that's now helping other utilities provide these reports.

It'd be great to see National Grid do this. Not only would we love to be more efficient, but it would also be fun to see how Albany stacks up against Colonie, or Saratoga vs. Clifton Park. It could be a like a game.

And saving money wouldn't be so bad, either. New Yorkers currently pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the entire nation.

photo: Flickr user huangjiahui


NY'ers pay the highest for everything it seems. Not surprising considering our state government is probably the msot corrupt.

Dont be fooled into thinking smart grid technology and rates will lower prices, if anything they will just cause your overall price to go up.

I don't know Steve Holiday from Billie Holiday but I think any utility company willing to take a risk on encouraging people to use less is pretty impressive.

It's the right thing to do and I for one think its worth it to pay a little more up front to have equipment dating back to the 1920s replaced with new, "smart" equipment that will allow us all to understand how much energy we actually use and where we can save.

It's pretty simple... if you use less, you pay less. It might be a little more expensive for new equipment, but you can still save. It's been proven in New England and in Europe and its about time we proved here in New York State as well!

Bravo National Grid!

Something needs to be done about National Grid rates. I have never lived in a place so expensive. I used a whole 10 therms of gas last month, and yet the gas portion of my bill was $28. Is that insane or what? The mandatory delivery charges for months when you have almost no usage are just predatory.

M-- Something you might consider is being put on a market rate plan. Most utilities have them. When market rates go down, your delivery charge won't be adjusted. Either way you pay the same, but you won't have a bill with low use and high delivery.

"Smart" Grid is a keyword for "raise rates". The concept is to shift electricity demand from "peak periods" (ie. when you are awake) to lower demand periods. If they can increase demand at night, power suppliers will be able to run more efficiently.

Problem is, you use electricity when you do because you're awake. You're not going to be cooking, watching tv, etc at 2AM. So the net effect is that you will pay more, and give National Grid more information to sell about you (ie. when are you home)

Smart Grid technology does a number of things, when combined with a time-of-day rate structure. But until that is in place for the NYS residential market, Smart grid stuff is meaningless. Shifting electricity usage to off-peak hours (evenings, overnight and mornings during the hottest days of the summer) means that there is less strain on the grid overall, and less need to build additional power plants to accommodate that high load.

And generally speaking, its not a heavy lift to figure out that the majority of people are home during the evening and at work during the day. The cable company already has that information from the little camera in your cable box.

@Karin - Your comment implies that I'm wearing tinfoil hats to avoid black helicopters. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you cannot see privacy implications with the smart grid, you need to practice critical thinking.

Smart grids and regulatory changes go hand in hand, which is why it is such an important issue to be aware of. In the 90's, NYS looked at supplier deregulation and peak load reduction to help control costs. Supplier deregulation has been a dismal failure for residential users, but peak load reduction as been remarkably successful, especially in the NYC Metropolitan area.

You should take some time to educate yourself about what "smart grid" technology really is -- it is much more than charging you different rates depending on time of day. This podcast from IBM talks about how "smart" appliances have been deployed in actual pilot projects to change settings based on price changes:

It's isn't necessarily a bad thing, but people and regulators need to be aware of the privacy implications of technologies -- particularly in a state like NY where the legislature is essentially for sale to special interests.

I agree with M.

When I pay more for the delivery of gas and electric than I do for my consumption, where is my incentive to reduce my usage? For example, on a $90 utility bill, I'm paying $50 merely for "delivery." And the delivery fee is standard regardless of the amount delivered: even if I cut my consumption in half, its a $70 utility bill!

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