Summer is in full swing, and it’s getting hot across the United States. In fact, it’s expected to be so hot that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has already projected that 2020 will be the hottest year on record. On top of that, most of us are spending more time at home due to remote working requirements and stay-home orders. That means higher energy use and cost for consumers, not to mention higher residential demand for utilities.

Fortunately, there are numerous home energy appliances designed to keep us cool. From central and room air conditioners to ductless, mini-split air conditioners and evaporate (swamp) coolers, most homes have some sort of air conditioning. According to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, 61% of U.S. residences report having central air conditioning. The remaining balance has window/wall units or no air conditioning at all.

Unfortunately, air-conditioned comfort comes at a cost — air conditioning accounts for 12% of total home energy expenditures in the U.S.

  • For homes with central air conditioning: adoption of smart thermostats has rapidly increased over the past 5-10 years. But not every home has one, and not every thermostat is scheduled to align with utility constraints.
  • For homes with window/wall units: smart controls are much less common and many only come with a nonprogrammable timer or basic temperature settings of cold, colder, coldest. This doesn’t help the electric grid.
  • For homes without any cooling: The scale of grid impact is less. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to engage consumers or manage demand of other appliances during those peak times.

Admittedly, not all regions in the U.S. have a climate that drives a desire for home cooling. But we can’t imagine living without it in the humid South or scalding hot Southwest. Even the Northeast and Midwest get hot during the day and sometimes don’t cool off in the evening. So, most homes have some form of cooling.

Graph of U.S. average residential air-conditioning expenditures by climate region, 2015.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

The point is, smart thermostats have provided a great opportunity for residential demand response. Direct air-conditioning load control programs were helpful, but in a world of almost infinite choices available at just the click of a button, energy users increasingly expect choices for how and when they use energy. Smart thermostats provide that choice to opt in or out of load control events. Yet utilities haven’t reached every cooling device, and there may be other appliances that are stacking on top of air-condition loads that aren’t controlled like water heaters, electric dryers, pool pumps, EVs and more.

How can a utility or a consumer coordinate all of those devices?

Real-time energy tracking can engage and energy consumers about their energy trends. Combining that energy tracking capability with actionable energy insights has been shown to deliver savings of 20%-35% across the entire home. Behavioral demand response targets energy savings when it matters most to the grid. Utilities are starting to take notice as appliance manufacturers integrate controls and smart features. Plus, with systems getting smarter, real-time energy insights will help to inform more automated demand response to provide energy users with choices that balance energy consumption and comfort throughout the home.

As utilities deploy more renewable sources of energy, it will be even more important to balance the intermittent supply with energy demand. Moving forward, expect to see an increasing number of utilities digging deeper for demand management opportunities from multiple distributed energy resources and major appliances.

That’s where Copper Labs comes in. Our wireless energy monitor, Copper, delivers real-time data from electric, gas and water meters, empowering utilities with real-time information to engage consumers with actionable insights that manage peak demand and accelerate energy efficiency across all of the appliances we use on a daily basis, especially those that help us keep cool. Even though most of us are staying at home more often at a time in which the planet is getting hotter, Copper can help users bring down the inflated cost of air conditioning through advanced customer programs and demand management.

In spite of record-breaking heat combining with increased residential energy usage to send energy bills soaring, Copper is advancing smart grid demand management far beyond what current technology is capable of — and saving consumers a significant chunk of change on air-conditioning costs along the way.