From the “My bullshit detector is about to explode” department, is a pilot program from the electricity companies in Ontario. My mother showed me a flyer over Christmas soliciting volunteers to have a new thermostat installed in their home. They’re interesting in doing this because with these new thermostats, they can remotely adjust your thermostat during times of peak electricity usage. What do you get for participating in this program? The thermostat, $25, and the ability to control the thermostat over the Internet. None of these items are very compelling.
It’s not like they plan to shut off your air-conditioner on the hottest days, though. According to Bruce Bibby, manager of Energy Conservation at Hydro Ottawa, “We install the thermostats, and for the most part we don’t touch it at all. But we do want to have the option in those three or four hottest days of the year of being able to bump it up a degree or two.”
Frankly, this doesn’t really sound so bad, but if I were in a position to volunteer for the pilot project, I wouldn’t. It’s a pilot program because they’re either not sure if it’ll make any difference, they’re working the bugs out of the system, or both. The other reason is there’s nothing in it to compensate me for any problems that may occur. Oh sure they provide a thermostat, but if this system ever becomes a requirement, they’ll provide the thermostats anyway.
My bullshit detector went into overload I read, “Hydro estimates participants will save about 20 per cent annually on their electricity bills.” The article states this remote adjustment would only occur on the three or four hottest weekdays days of the year, the thermostat setting would be increased by only a degree or two, and for only up to four hours. Even if they completely shut down my air-conditioning for four of the hottest summer days, how would this save 20% of my annual electricity cost?
Someone didn’t carry a zero, or just plain lied. I’m not sure which is worse.
Looking into it further, I went to the Ottawa Hydro Peaksaver page. The FAQ addresses my concern with an explanation that only indirectly explains:
How much money could the peaksaver program potentially save me?
You may not see savings directly on your bill, but this program will save everyone money by keeping the cost of electricity lower in the future by reducing the need to import electricity.
The only way I can think of to reduce the need to import electricity is to use less. If I use less, it will show up on my bill. So why might I not see it on my bill?
Your heating costs in the winter could be reduced through the use of the programmable thermostat. Setting the temperature back in winter and up in summer while your home or business is unoccupied will produce savings.
Ah ha. A programmable thermostat. This is where the savings figure they quote must be coming from. They don’t bother to explain that the thermostat doesn’t save energy simply by virtue of being programmable. You have to program it. I wonder if they have any guidelines. The thing is, if I were energy conscious, I’d already have one of these. If I already had a programmable thermostat, a different model isn’t going to save me anything. I can imagine the average person signing up with the best of intentions, having a new thermostat installed, expecting savings in the neighbourhood of 20%, and seeing little change in their bill.
Their ability to remotely alter the thermostat settings has more to do with shaving the peaks off of demand spikes than direct savings for me. Why suggest such a large savings with no explanation? The people most likely to be interested are the least likely to see any savings. Might Ottawa Hydro be run by used car salesmen?