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REU unveils new energy program

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By Terri Likens, Editor

Somewhere out there, a neighbor is logging into the Internet to turn off her water heater.
Another is using his smart phone to turn down his thermostat.
Using special utility technology they didn’t directly spend a dime on, they are saving themselves — and very likely, you — money.
It’s all part of Rockwood Electric Utility’s Smart Energy program.
This year, REU has been recruiting electric customers to get about 100 to participate in this pilot program.
Qualifying customers must apply online by filling out a questionnaire, and if they meet requirements, REU sends a team over to assess their homes.
Generally, it’s a two-step process, with an assessment and new meter installment on the first visit.
The second visit, which could take several hours, involves the installation of about $600 worth of advanced technology to help customers manage their energy use.
Bill Musrock, system engineer at the utility, is overseeing the launch of the program in a partnership with TVA.
“If we can get enough participation and REU (board) approval, we hope to make it a permanent fixture,” he said.
The program gives customers the ability to set up programs controlling thermostats, water heaters and even swimming pool pumps.
“Right now we have approximately 80 homes hooked up — either connected or ready to be installed,” Musrock said. “Since April, We’ve almost met our goal.”
One recent customer (the author of this article), saw household energy use drop by nearly a third the first month, compared to the year before.
Musrock said more typical savings are in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent.
The program is part of what is called “an intelligent energy management system” developed by the Consert company.
The program not only allows customers to better manage their energy consumption, but it allows TVA, during peak energy-use periods, to send out a signal to households on the system to change thermostats and reduce energy usage throughout the system. Customers are notified of such events by email.
If enough customers are using the system, TVA can reduce usage enough to prevent it from having to buy energy from outside its own production — which is prohibitively expensive.
And that can help keep costs down for all customers.
However, Musrock has emphasized that customers usually can override the TVA signal that might, for instance, raise their thermostat by several degrees for a few hours on a very hot day.
There are very rare peak-usage occasions in which the customer might not be able to override the signal, but Musrock said those might come around but once every two years.
The program not only allows customers to control their thermostats and specified electrical devices online, but it also helps them get a better picture of how and when their electricity is being used.
The Consert website they log into gives them energy usage pictures by device (thermostat, water heater, pool pump or other), which can be broken down by month, week, 24-hour periods and even less.
It allows customers to tweak their programs, which allows multiple changes for weekday, weekend and vacation use modes.
“When people get more control, they’re going to take more steps to conserve,” Musrock said.
Among the conditions for getting on the program are the following:
Customers must have at least two of the following: an electric water heater, air-conditioning or an electric pool pump.
They must own their own home; however, a notarized letter from the landlord will allow renters to participate.
Their electrical wiring must be in good condition and up to code,
Some residents might have to upgrade the wiring to their thermostats to be involved.
Residents must also have access to the Internet and be in an area that is served by the Verizon mobile phone service signal, since that is how utilities communicate with the smart devices.
To apply for the program, go to www.rockwoodelectric.com.