College team touts off-hour electricity bargains

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From Green Right Now Reports

Photo: Green Right Now
Photo: Green Right Now

Try as we might to conserve energy and cut down on those electric bills, doing so can be a challenge.

Clothes need to be washed. You can fill the dishwasher to capacity, but it still has to run.

But what if you could program those functions to work when electricity usage is at its lowest and rates are cheapest? Six students at Michigan Technological University are developing a way to do just that. The group has designed a prototype for a “smart meter” that would replace the average home’s watt meter.

“There’s currently a mismatch between how much electrical power we can generate and when consumers need that power,” faculty advisor John Lukowski says. “The goal was to create a device that would record, analyze and store data about energy consumption and current time-of-day energy pricing.”

Not only can homeowners learn when power usage (and price) are at their lowest, but the meter also can control household devices based on time and date.

“Say it has been determined that the price of power is lowest at 2 a.m.,” says Lukowski. “The meter can be set to automatically start the dishwasher at that time each day.”

Until theory becomes reality, the group recommended several ways to be smarter power consumers:

  • Run the vacuum, do a load of wash, or turn on the outdoor sprinklers when neighbors are asleep—very early in the morning or late at night.
  • Don’t run five household devices at once—try to stretch out the usage throughout the day (and night).
  • Run the dishwasher and clothes dryer at times when you are not also using lights, TV, computers and other electrical devices.

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