Check outside your home, and you'll probably find a digital power meter.
Austin Energy's Ed Clark says the utility company converted most of its customers over to the so-called ‘smart’ meters to benefit the consumer and the power company. The meters are able to gauge specific energy use inside your home, from your coffee maker to your air conditioner.
"We'll be able to ping them to make sure someone's power is back on after an outage,” Clark said. “If you have one that's late at night, that's a great advantage."
Pecan Street Inc. is based at the University of Texas. The group is studying data from 400 participating Austin Energy customers to craft how everyone will interact with their electric usage in the future.
Former Council Member Brewster McCracken with Pecan Street Inc. says smart meters are key because they track power loads in real time.
"They enable a whole new wave of consumer services that will make people safer in their homes and offer them new products and services that will make their homes more comfortable and their lives better," he said.
Starting in October, Clark says Austin Energy customers can choose to pay electric rates based on their monthly usage, or break it down by the quarter hour. Users would pay more during peak demand times, like the late afternoon, and less overnight.
"Then they can make a judgment,” Clark said. “Maybe I am going to do some things to reduce my air conditioning because it could have a huge impact on my bill."
Eventually, McCracken says, technology his organization is developing now will literally put the power in your hands.
"What am I doing in my oven, is my pool pump left on, or do I have a catastrophic malfunction with something in my house?” McCracken said. “That's really going to require the consumer to adopt something in their home that independently collects this data."
Clark says Austin Energy does not use customer data to monitor personal habits like doing laundry, cooking or other activities. Rather, he says consumer protections do not allow utility companies to access that level of information.