Less is best in energy rankings

Many Islanders have received a letter in the mail from Puget Sound Energy that compares their energy usage to that of their “neighbors.” In it, Islanders are informed as to whether or not they are using more or less than the average energy use of 100 other Island homes that are similar in size to their own. The report gives a grade of ‘Great’ or ‘Good’ (which both mean less than the average amount of energy was used), or ‘More than Average’ in terms of their total gas and usage.

Designed to encourage conservation, the reports are generated by PSE and are paid for by a federal grant. The project is designed to measure the effectiveness of giving usage data to customers as a tool to gauge their own energy use.

The project involves 5,125 Island homes as well as more than 120,000 customers in cities across the Eastside.

The program, according to Mercer Island Assistant City Manager James Mason, is to “give customers a way to benchmark their energy use and encourage them to seek ways they can save.”

The year-long Home Energy Reports program is a pilot and is funded by a $73,000 federal grant. It is being conducted by PSE in partnership with the other C-7 “New Energy Partnership Cities” (Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton and Sammamish), and OPower, a private company which developed the system.

There is no cost to the City of Mercer Island.

Mason hopes that households will turn to the city and the Green Ribbon Commission for ideas on how to reduce their energy consumption.

The data for the reports comes from PSE billing data collected through gas and electric meters. The selection of households is random. The neighborhood households are identified and grouped by square footage from the King County Assessor’s records. The reports do not factor in demographic data on the number of people in the household, ages or other information that might influence energy use.

In the example above, a 2,528-square-foot home used a combined total of 4,467 electric and natural gas units of energy over a two-month period. That use is then compared to 4,163 units used by the “efficient neighbors” and 5,427 units of “all 100 neighbors.” The report gives the household a “good” rating.

A “neighbor” in the comparison home data is “probably not your next door neighbor,” said Joel Smith of PSE’s Energy Advisors Group, emphasizing that the identity of each individual home is shielded. “No one sees the data about a particular home.”

Computer models designed and generated the samples and the calculations. Gas and electric use are combined into an energy index to simplify the values. The bar graphs in the report show how the customer individual usage compares to the 20 most efficient neighbors and to the average use of all 100 in the neighborhood group.

The pilot program began last October. The set of indicators that will determine the success of the program, in terms of energy savings, has yet to be determined.

A staff of eight advisors are available by e-mail or telephone to answer questions from customers about the reports and to offer advice on how to save energy.

Those who receive the reports may opt out at any time.

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