New power meters help customers cool juice use

Millions of California households will soon be able to see at a glance how much electricity and money is being gobbled up as they flip on their hairdryers and plasma TVs. California regulators and two of the state’s biggest utilities are rolling out a $2 billion program to install “advanced” electricity meters in select homes. The devices display how much electricity a customer is using and how much it’s costing in real time, encouraging folks to cut back during peak hours. The utilities will use the data provided by the meters to offer variable-rate plans that reward good power behavior — like running dishwashers off-peak — to help alleviate California’s perpetual power crunches. In a pilot project, electricity use fell by an average of 13 percent in the 2,500 participating homes. Similar programs have cut electricity consumption in Pennsylvania, Florida, Sweden (natch), and elsewhere, says a California energy commissioner.