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Lower your utility bills by tracking energy use

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We’re all taught to save electricity, turning off the light when you leave a room. It isn’t that easy anymore. In a world run by electronics that power up with a plug, keeping your energy bill down can be a guessing game.

“It was really a pretty consistent frustration. I get an electric bill. I might be happy or sad with the amount, but I really don’t know what caused it to be what it was,” says Jeff Trieber, who jumped at the opportunity when he heard about a pilot program offered through their local electric company that would help them see how much electricity they use.

“I’m a little gadget oriented maybe and concerned about spending money on electricity and the environment so when I saw the ad from Cape Light Compact I said, well, I want to be part of that,” Jeff says.

The Triebers were one of about 100 Cape Light Compact customers to enroll in a trial run of Grounded Power, a technology that allows you to monitor your electric use in real time. A monitor is installed in your home that communicates with your computer, sending minute by minute data, so you can see how your energy dollars are being spent.

“The first part was going around the house, ‘What is drawing this power?’ You know those plugs are like little ATMs, you know. And there’s like money coming out of them so do I want to stick the thing in there and how much is this going to cost me and how long. So just seeing what the heck we were using,” Jeff says.

The Triebers would see spikes in use, and try to find out which gadget was responsible.

“I was surprised with the iron. You know so often we turn our iron on, walk away, get what we need to iron and come back, well that really uses a lot of electricity and then also in cooking we prepare meals a little bit smarter,” said Diane Trieber.

Graphs showed them how their use stacked up to similar households, and they get points for using the system. They set a goal through the program to reduce their energy by 25 percent and they’ve actually exceeded that.

The Grounded Power program was designed by Carl Gustin and Paul Cole of Gloucester. Their aim was to create a program that would change people’s habits by showing them how they are using electricity and where they could cut back.

“It’ll give you feedback on how you’re doing toward achieving your goal. It will give you reminders about what you’ve committed to, and one of the most important things is that it allows you to share information with others who are using the system, so there’s a real social network aspect of that,” Gustin says.

The Cape Light Compact was the first pilot program but now six other municipal power companies in Wakefield, Wellesley, Danvers, Hingham, Braintree and North Attleboro are testing the program with their own customers at no cost to the user.

“They are fascinated by watching the monitor, watching what uses electricity in their house, things that they never knew about. What we find is that by beginning to understand those things, they start making changes without thinking about it, it doesn’t become an owners’ task, it becomes a challenge. It becomes a little bit of fun for people,” Cole says.

Since using the program, the Triebers have made a lot of changes, some suggested on the site.

The vaccum cleaner is now set to a timer. Computer equipment is plugged into a power strip that only powers up once the desk lamp is turned on. In the oven, cookies and casseroles will bake together. They switched to energy saving LED nightlights, and installed some sensors on the light switches. Those changes have paid off, close to $80 a month of savings from past electric bills. The Triebers fell they’re doing their part to help the environment and their budget as well.

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