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Measured dose: watch what you consume

Published: Wednesday 15 March 2006

Measured dose: watch what you< (Credit: Bryan Chan / Lat)California electricity consumers are in for a shock and a surprise. Two of the state's biggest utility providers plan on spending $2 billion to install millions of meters, which will display real-time information on how much electricity a customer consumes when using different gadgets.

The data in turn will be used by the utilities to tailor voluntary 'variable pricing' plans. According to the plans, consumers will be charged more during peak periods such as weekday afternoons and less during nighttime and weekends. The utilities are hoping to relieve the pressure on the state's power crunch by giving customers a financial reward for running their dishwashers at night -- or by providing disincentives for running their air-conditioners full blast during peak hours.

The energy commission estimates that the programme could cut energy utilisation in California by one per cent on peak summer days, when the threat of blackouts is the greatest. Moreover, the programme would reduce the hidden subsidy that less power consuming residents pay to support the high energy demands of others.

The metres have been installed earlier in a pilot project in 2,500 houses and the customers were billed under variable-pricing plans. Subsequently, electricity use fell by an average of 13 per cent.

However, not all are convinced that the average energy user really wants to manage and reduce energy consumption. Critics claim that even if they did, energy conservation is not a necessary consequence.

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