Smart meter tips: I learned to manage my energy use and save money

Smart meter tips: I learned to manage my energy use and save money

Here’s how to avoid billing surprises and keep on top of energy usage in the hot summer months, and all year-round.

Like many Duke Energy residential customers, I was aware my home had a smart meter, but wasn’t sure how to take advantage of its benefits. After checking it out, I learned how small behavior changes can lead to savings and no surprises when I get my bill.

Smart meters are two-way digital units that send energy usage information daily from customers’ homes. I can monitor and evaluate my use, look for irregularities and take steps to save money. So far, meters have been installed for more than 60 percent of Duke Energy’s customers in the Southeast and Midwest.

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The hourly usage chart shows when peak usage happens.

My key to unlocking the trove of information from my smart meter was to first create an online account. It’s easy to do; just start here (or watch this video for more information). After registering and logging in to My Account, I was ready to evaluate my use, find ways to save, and get educated on how to use Duke Energy’s automated tools to keep me informed and avoid billing surprises.

Here’s what I found at the “My Usage & Savings” tab under the main menu:

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Robert Moreland

Charts show my electricity use in kwh (kilowatts per hour) on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis. They display the high temperature for the day, my kwh use, and comparisons to other days of the week and times of day. The data goes back two years, allowing me to make comparisons of the same month in previous years.

Robert Moreland, Duke Energy’s project director for smart meter deployment in the Carolinas, told me that monitoring usage allows me to see trends or irregularities. “While the meters track overall usage, they don’t know how you are using your energy,” he said.

The graphs on the website are good starting points for exploration. Abnormally high use at off hours, for example, may indicate improperly functioning air conditioning or heating units.

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This calculator shows how much you could save by adjusting your thermostat.

While I found no real surprises, my peak use was late afternoon and early evening, when washing clothes, using the dishwasher and kitchen appliances, and running my air conditioner. I felt I could make improvements.

The Usage Calculator let me enter information about my home including its age, square footage, age of air conditioning units and thermostat settings. I could play with the settings and – bingo! – with minor tweaks to my thermostat, I could realize some significant savings.

When it comes to bills, I hate surprises. One of the most significant benefits smart meters offer customers is avoiding surprises through the usage alert feature.

“Because smart meters are read nightly,” said Moreland, “we’re able to provide notification mid-billing cycle to customers who’ve signed up for this feature through text or email. The notice shows how much energy they’ve used, what they’ve spent, and, based on usage and weather projections, what their estimated end of the month bill will be. This gives customers the opportunity to take action and modify their usage.”

Sign me up!

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Another way to avoid surprises is an equal payment plan. This no-cost feature levels out 12 monthly payments based on history, with settle-up – if needed – done in the 12th month. (Equal Payment Plan is available for customers in the Carolinas. Budget Billing is available for customers in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.)

I found these features and other energy-saving offers and ideas available in the Lower My Bill Toolkit tab. There’s even an online store with discounts for energy-saving products, free LED lightbulbs and information on home rebates for energy upgrades. I learned about these during my free Duke Energy 60-minute Energy House Call.

“We want our customers to use less energy,” said Moreland. “And by better informing consumers, they can reach those goals easier.”

9 ways to save energy

  • Have the HVAC system checked to maintain peak performance. Duke Energy offers qualified customers rebates to help offset the cost of replacing older units with energy-efficient ones. Use finditduke.com to find a certified contractor.
  • Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes an HVAC system work harder, which uses more energy.
  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortable. The smaller the difference between the inside and outside temperatures, the lower your energy bill will be.
  • If you have a whole-house fan, use it to pull cool air into your home at night or in the early morning through open windows. Turn the fan off and shut the windows during the day.
  • Close blinds and curtains on sunny days.
  • Use bathroom and kitchen fans to remove heat and humidity caused by showering and cooking. (And take short showers instead of baths to save even more year-round.)
  • By using a ceiling fan, you’ll feel cooler and be able to raise the thermostat by as much as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Run your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer at night when it’s cooler. Run full loads. Consider air drying dishes and clothes to save even more.
  • If you’re going on vacation, this calculator can show you how much you’ll save by unplugging appliances you’re not using while you’re away.

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