This California Startup Pays Homeowners To Reduce Electricity Use
OhmConnect helps to cut power use by aggregating the energy savings of many users who opt to "unplug" at select times
What does an hour of not running the dishwasher mean in terms of energy savings on a large scale? Not a whole lot, at least not on a state or nationwide level. But what if hundreds of thousands of people in one area did the same thing? Then you might be getting somewhere. That’s the idea behind OhmConnect, a San Francisco-based startup that helps power suppliers produce less energy by paying homeowners and apartment-dwellers to turn off their appliances for set amounts of time.
Those who sign up agree to have their power use monitored by OhmConnect, and receive a text notification every so often during “demand response” events (times when energy use is particularly high) with a request to turn off the lights and appliances in their home for one hour. While on an individual level this would have a very small impact on the total power used, by tapping into OhmConnect’s user base of more than 290,000 customers in California, these small changes in usage amount to big savings. OhmConnect then pays participants an amount of money based on the energy savings during that hour compared to their normal usage.
“A lot of people use us as an excuse to unplug and play a board game with the family,” Curtis Tongue, OhmConnect co-founder, told Fast Company.
With these savings, OhmConnect can sell “negawatts” (units of power saved) to local utility companies, which then use them to offset the amount of actual megawatts of electricity they produce. The idea has proven successful with major Californian utilities including Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, all of which OhmConnect now counts as customers. For its part, OhmConnect takes 20% of the amount of energy savings it offers to power companies to run its business.
So far, the company claims it has saved California’s power grid 100 megawatts in the four years since it launched. To put that into perspective, that equals roughly two peaking power plants (power plants that only run when demand exceeds the normal supply) that would have otherwise had to have been used, amounting to a meaningful reduction in power usage, saving not only money, but also reducing carbon emissions. For the average consumer, OhmConnect says that small apartment dwellers can expect to make approximately $40 to $50 per year, while those who live in a larger home could make as much as $200 per year.
The company says that utilities were initially skeptical of the idea, as its “demand response” tactic has traditionally only targeted large customers, like factories or other high-use industrial consumers. After proving that a consumer-facing initiative targeted at households could also be successful, OhmConnect is now looking to expand to other regions, including Toronto, Texas and areas on the East Coast.
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