Changing consumer behaviors is the most effective method to achieving long-term reductions in residential electricity usage, and utilities around the United States have been deploying advanced metering initiatives by installing smart meters on the homes within their distribution to track energy usage more efficiently and in greater detail. This strategy allows utilities to track energy usage remotely and better match production to demand.

Unfortunately, smart meters have a limited benefit on the consumption side, according to a recent study released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "Advanced metering initiatives alone are neither necessary nor sufficient for providing households with the feedback that they need to achieve energy saving," the study found.

"Smart meters are not smart enough by themselves," says John "Skip" A. Laitner, ACEEE's director of economic and social analysis. "Consumers on the other side of the meters need useful home displays or information they can readily digest and use in real-time to make them active partners in conserving energy."

Smart metering has the greatest impact on energy usage when combined with systems that deliver or display real-time information to the home, along with tips for managing home electricity demands, the study suggests. With such information at their fingertips, consumers are empowered and more motivated to change their behaviors.

If utilities implemented energy-use feedback systems in addition to smart metering, consumers could collectively reduce household electricity use by up to 12%, saving $35 billion dollars or more over the next 20 years, according to the report; however, utilities would need to partner with third-party solution providers to roll out feedback programs, and, according to ACEEE, some have already started to do so.

While there currently are many wireless home automation systems available to help homeowners manage their energy loads, they are not in widespread use. The report predicts that in the future, home energy management will depend on such consumer-controlled and automated systems.

The full text of "Advanced Metering Initiatives and Residential Feedback Programs: A Meta-Review for Household Electricity Saving Operations," is available for download from ACEEE's website.

Stephani Miller is Associate Web Editor for Custom Home Online.