Opower is proud to have saved more than 2 billion kilowatt hours over its brief five-year history. But not all kilowatt hours saved are created equal: for many of our utility partners, energy savings that occur during peak consumption times are more valuable than savings at other times.
As explained in an analysis on our data blog last summer, hot summer weekday afternoons are the “rush hour” of electricity consumption, as everyone flicks on their air conditioner to stay cool. This increased energy demand is usually met by turning on expensive “peaker” power plants. Electricity prices on these “peak” days can double the price of wholesale electricity relative to a typical summer day, which means that the value of saving a kilowatt hour at peak times is considerably higher.
In this context, it’s extra important that Opower’s energy savings programs bring their A-game during peak hours. So we dug into our data storehouse to measure how we’re doing on this front. In particular, we took a careful look at data from smart meters – which measure energy consumption in 15, 30, or 60-minute increments – from several Opower randomized controlled trials across the country, spanning more than 400,000 customers and 28 billion meter reads. These data enabled us to pinpoint how much energy is being saved during those steamy summer afternoons by customers who receive Opower home energy communications.
Opower customers save 50% more energy during the time of day when it matters most
While the exact patterns vary slightly amongst our utility partners, the trend is clear: Opower customers save about 50% more than average from 1-5pm on summer weekdays.
Two additional trends become apparent when we drill into the data:
- Customers are saving energy during every hour of the day, meaning that energy is truly being saved, not just rescheduled. This reduction implies that Opower programs are immune from the rebound effect common amongst many other energy efficiency programs.
- We found that this kind of savings pattern is virtually identical for every day of the week. Even though most of us (certainly those of us here at Opower) head to an office Monday through Friday, we were pleased to discover that energy savings for Opower customers are equally strong on weekdays and weekends.
What about the hottest hours of the year?
The results above cover the whole of August 2012. But while it was hot in August, it wasn’t hot all the time. When utilities think about managing their peak demand, they worry about the hottest period of the hottest days. We can test the durability of Opower’s savings during these times by isolating the 100 hottest hours from last summer, then seeing if Opower behavioral savings stand up even during those sizzling times. And it turns out they do….
Customers reached by Opower’s programs save more during the most intense peak times – on average, upwards of 60% more than the typical summer savings level.
We are excited by these results for several reasons:
- Utilities and their customers are saving more money because they’re reducing their need for more expensive energy.
- We are slashing carbon emissions by reducing the need for activating “peaker” power plants, which tend to create more pollution.
- Behavior savings are durable: they don’t just vanish when the going gets tough
Behavior is a significant piece of any peak demand management strategy
Utilities already deploy an array of tools and strategies to manage peak demand. Two popular approaches for residential customers are pricing plans that offer incentives to reduce energy during peak days and times, and switches or thermostats that enable utilities to temporarily cycle air conditioners. Opower has demonstrated that empowering customers with insights about their energy consumption and motivation to save can also drive reductions in peak energy usage, and has a role to play alongside these popular measures in peak demand reduction planning.
Switches and pricing incentives, however, can face limitations in terms of the number of customers who have adopted them and the energy reduction they achieve when activated. We expect that coupling these programs with timely, personalized information and feedback will increase the effectiveness of these programs and maximize the benefits that these programs yield.
At Opower, we are busy conducting experiments on how to best enhance and supplement traditional peak reduction tools. We are confident that these insights will lead to an even bigger impact on lowering energy consumption, reducing pollution, and saving customers money.
Tyler Curtis is Senior Director of Advanced Analytics at Opower