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Utility Companies Address Energy Woes

Last week at the Waldorf-Astoria, The Edison Electric Institute held a spirited panel discussion on ways energy providers and consumers can work together to reduce energy usage and utility bills.

New York, NY–Last week at the Waldorf-Astoria, The Edison Electric Institute held a spirited panel discussion on ways energy providers and consumers can work together to reduce energy usage and utility bills. The event’s dominant theme was education and technological innovation. The first phase of creating more environmentally sustainable homes, according to the panel, is to educate homeowners about the small steps they can take to save energy. The manufacturers then must take innovation seriously and provide ever smarter tools to empower individuals and families to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, and better manage in-home power-hungry appliances like plasmas.

The panel of speakers, mostly CEOs from companies like Xcel Energy and Con Edison, conveyed a sense of urgency about the future of energy management and discussed the possibilities of linking more renewable energy sources–such as solar and wind–into the electricity grid.

Everyone agreed that the heat is on and we must all prepare a cost-effective plan for the future. Three of the five warmest summers since 1975 were 2005, 2006, and 2007. 2008 is already promising to be as hot, suggesting that home air conditioning bills will increase. Similarly, winter predictions are that home heating bills could hit record levels. National gas and coal prices have doubled in the past decade and prices at the gas pump show no sign of decreasing. This harsh reality compounded by the political instability in the Middle East make the energy challenge the single most important issue for consumers. In polls, the energy crisis is even more important than the Iraq War, according to Con Ed president Kevin Burke. “In the 1980s, one in four homes had one air conditioner or one central air systems,” he explained. “Now, two in three have them.”

Besides holding energy fairs and education programs for consumers, the panel discussed real world alternatives for better energy distribution like the “Smart Grid City”. The nation’s first fully integrated “smart” city in the nation, Boulder, Colorado, will feature benefits for the consumer, the environment, and the grid, according to Ray Gogel of Xcel Energy. The City’s new system will include innovative technology like networked Smart Meters with instant feedback for customers and thus encourage better energy use.

Also discussed at the panel are the “hyper-efficient” appliances that the Electric Power Research Institute is speeding to the marketplace. For example, thermostats are giving Tampa homeowners ways to minimize their home’s impact on the environment, while significantly lowering their electricity costs. In Virginia, a smart in-home power monitor tells consumers how much energy their home is using and what’s it costing them at any one moment.

Con Ed’s Burke said that his company’s CFL bulb coupons is another way Con Ed is committed to green. Last year, NYC & Company, the City’s marketing and tourism organization, Con Edison and General Electric, have mailed coupons to active Con Ed customers for GE Energy Smart, ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) with their August residential electric bills. The program was the keystone of GreeNYC, the multimedia and advertising environmental campaign of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 127 initiatives to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent, by the year 2030. The Mayor’s office also said that there will be an additional one million New Yorkers by 2030.

“Demands for power continue to increase in the home…new technologies and information systems will equal better awareness,” Burke said.

Many CE manufacturers, including Sharp, are also keen on green. Last month Sharp debuted numerous prototypes in its environmentally conscious products and advanced environmental technologies, specifically, LCD TVs that run on solar cells and modules. Its 26V-inch Low Power Consumption LCD TV is expected to use approximately one-fourth the power and has about one-third the annual energy consumption of a conventional 28-inch CRT TV having nearly the same screen area.

As for CEDIA professionals, home automation is praised as a way to achieve smarter, more energy efficient homes and zero net energy homes. CEDIA 2008 is expected to be a focused platform to address energy efficiency and recycling issues; CEDIA’s Utz Baldwin is a loud advocate for better public policy on green building and sustainability. The CEDIA Green Action Team, formed last year, is charged with exploring ways to better serve the membership with green business opportunities.