A Smarter Electrical Grid

Researchers and utility companies are pushing the idea of systems that adjust household electricity use to ease periods of peak demand and cut consumers' bills

For a year, Jerry Brous lived a little piece of the future. The 67-year-old resident of Sequim, Wash., was part of a test of a home energy system smart enough to respond to changing prices of electricity. When the price rose because of greater demand on the grid, the house automatically dialed back the thermostat, or shut down the water heater and clothes dryer. That shaved an estimated 15% from Brous' energy bills, giving him average monthly payments of $85 with a monthly high of $148. More important, with more than 100 houses equipped like Brous' in the experiment, the smart system was good for the grid as well. It smoothed power peaks, reduced the need for expensive new power plants, and cut the chances of a blackout. "It was a wonderful thing," says Brous. "I frankly miss it."

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