Intelligent Energy

Free solar, behavior-based rates for Chicago homes

Free solar, behavior-based rates for Chicago homes

Posting in Cities

A ComEd pilot program plans to equip Chicago residents with photovoltaic panels and metering gadgets. The goal? Training consumers to take power over their energy habits.

This year, there will be at least 100 homes in the windy city going solar.

They are part of a new ComEd project to assess how customers regulate their energy consumption when they have a better grasp of how much energy they use, when they use it, and how much it costs them.

The utility will install smart electric meters and price the homes' electric use by the hour. Half of the homes will be able to gain credits by sending stored solar power back to the grid. The other half won't be able to store their energy.

ComEd's vice president for marketing and environmental programs told the Chicago Sun-Times:

"We want to see whether consumers have the ability, with this technology, to become little utilities. They will be able to buy and sell electricity at a real-time hourly price, which is very close to the wholesale price, from their homes."

The larger project--up to 131,000 homes--involves wireless communication between smart meters and in-home usage displays to alert customers of their consumption patterns. The utility will evaluate how this knowledge affects consumer behavior in 8,000 of the homes.

Within this group, 3,100 customers will have a basic display device, 1,500 households will get touchscreen consoles connected to Internet, and 400 homes will have programmable thermosats that can automatically change home temperatures through the course of the day.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or Stimulus bill, provided the majority of funds for the project, with ComED and its vendors funding $3 million.

The project will also be the first of its kind to offer tiered electric rates to participants. The options include:

  • the current flat rate
  • rates that rise with more-than-average use
  • hourly rates based on wholesale rates from the day before
  • rates that rise during hours of peak demand
  • rebates to reduce consumption during peak demand
  • time-of-use rates based on peak and non-peak periods

After 12 months, how these Chicagoans engage their new gadgetry and take charge of their habits should be interesting.


Chicago Utility to Test Distributed Solar

Image: Flickr/urbanwoodswalker

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure