In July I wrote about the Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse website that allows Americans to track their local smart grid projects. In the article I discussed the smart meter project that my utility company, Salt River Project (SRP), is working on and then mentioned my disappointment that I wasn’t in on their pilot program. Imagine my surprise when I returned home from a vacation to the Grand Canyon to find a call from an SRP representative informing me that I was eligible for a smart meter upgrade.

After calling the utility company I discovered that SRP has expanded beyond the pilot program. Once the project is completed, nearly 100 percent of SRP’s customers will be equipped with a smart meter. While the smart meter installations will create a more efficient meter reading process for SRP, there is also an immediate benefit to the customer— seeing their daily energy use.

Okay, so I admit that I am a numbers nerd and while I understand that not everyone will be logging in to their SRP account to check their daily usage, I can tell you that if they did it would affect their energy use. The first day that my numbers showed up I was in shock — I used more than 200 kilowatts (kWh) of energy! To my credit I did do laundry that day, but I’m pretty sure I also had the thermostat set to a much lower temperature. Remember I’m in Arizona and it's August.

The next day my numbers dropped down to about 60 kWh of energy use. In the two weeks since I’ve had the smart meter installed, I’ve only topped 100 kWh twice, not counting that first day. I can see the spikes in energy use on laundry day and before you ask, yes I do have an EnergyStar-rated high-efficiency front load washer and dryer set.

Now I know that setting the thermostat higher in the summer or turning off lights in unoccupied rooms is not the best way to save money on energy costs, despite the common misconception that these are two of the best ways to increase residential energy efficiency, but it is helping.  

Each day that I make proactive changes to my energy use based on my smart meter readout, I am saving money. For example, on August 12 I was using well over 200 kWh of energy. At $0.10/kWh (roughly what I pay for summer hours) that means that I spent more than $20 to power my home on August 12. If I kept up with that pace, I could expect a $600 electric bill. No thanks.

Instead of getting surprised with a big bill at the end of the month, I can now see my daily usage and make immediate changes, which are already helping me save money. Just look at my next highest usage day as an example. On August 23 and I used about 125 kWh of electricity. My energy costs for that day are only around $12.50, for a savings of at least $7.50 for that one day. Over the period of 30 days, this would add up to a $225 savings. Of course, my energy use fluctuates but the smart meter allows me to see my usage in near real time, think about what electricity-sucking energy choices I made that day, and alter my use for the next day. This is how I am saving money thanks to my new smart meter.

Some things we just can't change, like the computers being on and the air conditioning being set at a reasonable temperature. My husband and I both work from home and so our energy use is going to be higher than a family with both parents working outside the home.

Despite our work-at-home environment, we've managed to have one day below 50 kWh and I’d like to see more of those sub-50 kWh day on my usage map in the coming weeks. Once winter comes I should see a big decrease in my energy use with sub-50 kWh days possibly being the norm. Remember, I’m in Arizona; we don’t really have a winter.

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