As with many other parts of North America, we’re in the middle of a heat wave. I love it because I’m usually very cold so this heat wave for me is probably what most people feel as a normal temperature.
Not surprisingly, the heat wave created a surge in demand for electricity to run air conditioners and there was a major blackout to a large part of the city. In my neighborhood, it lasted 6 hours for repair crews to get things back on line.
It reminded me of an article I wrote recently about, which described a Philadelphia Energy Company that can control the air conditioners among enrolled houses so that air conditioners in homes throughout the neighborhood can cycle rather than run continuously. This is a smart way to keep houses cool while automatically managing the power demand.
Our power is metered – the energy company reads how much power we use and they bill us at specific rate. On my bill, it’s just one rate, a price per kilowatt. But here’s the thing: Energy is a commodity and it doesn’t always cost the same thing to make one unit of energy as it costs to make another. For example, when demand is high during the day, costs should be higher. When demand is lower during the night, costs should be lower. How hard would it be to add that one more element into our power bill’s metering to measure not just how much power we used… but when we used it?
The same goes for water. Water is supposedly a scarce resource but if you look around my neighborhood, we’re all watering our lawns and filling our swimming pools and washing our cars, and we’re charged the same whether we’re turning on the tap during the day or at night. How hard would it be to measure when we get our water and charge more during the day.
The same goes for car insurance. Per-mile insurance already exists in some areas but it’s not widespread. It could be… and it should be. After all, it makes more sense for the person who is on the road all the time to pay more insurance than the person who barely uses their car. (That’s not the case where I live. I pay the same as someone else who drives every day even though I might use my car once a week).
The same goes for internet usage. I’m ALWAYS on the internet and I should pay more to access it than someone who is never on the internet.
Now that I’m on this rant, why not do the same thing for my curbside trash collection?
The concept of metering isn’t foreign to us. We use a form of it when we use our mobile devices – sometimes a service provider will give discounts for calls made after a certain time (during off-peak hours). Heck, my parents still call me after 6pm because they used to get a discount waaaay back when the phone companies gave one. Even the fuel in our car is a type of “metering” – a usage charge for the amount that we travel. Toll roads are another form of metering. So is sales tax.
Everything that can be metered should be metered. The technology is there (maybe it’s not integrated into every household power meter, for example, but the technology exists). It will benefit service providers and utility companies by helping them to level out demand. And if consumers can tie their actions to a specific dollar amount, there might be an increased motivation to save water, throw out less, run the dishwasher when everyone goes to bed, or drive less.