Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Jake Richardson13
Free OhmConnect Service Helps Californians Save On Utility Bills
October 19th, 2015 by Jake Richardson
OhmConnect has a nifty free service that allows most Californians to reduce their electricity consumption and even get paid to do that. You can start the service by signing up via a web browser, and then download the free app. One of the OhmConnect co-founders, Curtis Tongue generously answered some questions about the service.
How does OhmConnect pay people for reducing their electricity?
OhmConnect works by collectively organizing people to reduce their energy use when the grid would rather pay users to reduce rather than pay additional power plants.
OhmConnect sends users a text message, email, or push notification (whichever the user prefers) when they should reduce their electricity usage for an hour. We then measure the reductions using smart meter data.
Getting paid is as simple as connecting your PayPal or Venmo account.
So, would you say that OhmConnect helps local grids by reducing demand during peak hours?
Yes, although not in the traditional utility sense of “peak hours.” Once or twice per week, people use more electricity than is expected. When this happens, the grid needs to turn on an additional power plant for about an hour to make sure that there’s enough electricity available on the grid. These are called “peaker” plants.
The unfortunate thing about these peaker plants is that they’re environmentally damaging and also extraordinarily expensive to operate. OhmConnect prevents the grid from having to use these ‘peaker plants’ by having our users reduce their use by the amount the grid was going to turn them on.
How does OhmConnect time its notifications to customers to tell them when to reduce electricity consumption?
OhmConnect models the actual cost of generating electricity at 800 locations across California every 5 minutes. Electricity usually costs about $30 per MWh (MegaWatt Hour), but when these peaker plants turn on, the cost can sometimes exceed $2,000 per MWh. We use these increases in electricity cost to trigger our notifications and reduction events, which we call an #OhmHour.
What makes it really cool and really effective is the specificity: #OhmHour alert messages can be directed to users living within very geographically specific areas — areas often just a few miles wide.
We’ve built #OhmHours to be a social event. Many of our users have organized into teams, so they can track their reductions together as a community. Some of the most exciting ways people have used #OhmHours is by having everyone on the team donate their earnings to a local school or non-profit. People are literally donating to their communities, just by reducing their environmental footprint. It’s a win-win-win.
Many of our users love getting our text messages, knowing when they should avoid using the grid’s least sustainable electricity, and just turning off a light or two. We’ve heard stories of people using #OhmHours as an excuse to have dinner by candle light, go out for a walk, or just turn off the TV and catch up on some reading.
What is the most an OhmConnect user has made in one month?
Obviously, the more energy you use on average, the more you can reduce during #OhmHours, thus the high payments you can expect to receive. Steve Reed, a video programmer in San Diego told us “By making a few small changes, I’ve earned about $220 through my participation. What’s even more impactful is that on top of these earnings, my home has reduced the CO2 produced on our behalf…with very little impact on our daily lives.” Another user, Darlene Adler, recently cashed out $298 after just 10 months of using OhmConnect.
A very cool development is that our power users have actually automated their home’s entire response to #OhmHours. We recently built a hub that allows users to connect their smart devices, such as wifi thermostats, smart plugs, electric cars, and other home automation equipment. In fact, we have a growing contingent of users who look to OhmConnect as a means to subsidize their purchase of smart devices. When you connect them to OhmConnect, they oftentimes pay off in a couple of years.
What is the average payment a user receives?
There are so many variables that factor into an ‘average’ payment, such as how large someone’s base load is, how expensive electricity is near a user’s home (which is actually the most important variable), how frequently a user responds to our notifications.
What I can say is that we’ve found that most users earn between $100 – $150 each year and it’s worth noting that there’s a correlation between automation and OhmConnect payouts. Homeowners who have automated their home energy use by installing smart energy devices, and who charge their EV with a smart, automated charging see the highest levels of OhmConnect payouts.
But the emotional payout is priceless. I can’t emphasize enough how much our users love simply knowing when their electricity is dirty and when it’s clean. It’s an empowering feeling, knowing that they can choose to not use electricity from the grid’s dirtiest power plants.
How many users have signed up so far?
We have thousands of users all across California participating in OhmConnect.
Does Ohmconnect work on every mobile device?
Yes, we have iOS and Android versions available, although I would recommend initially signing up with your desktop, since you’ll need to connect your utility account. You can read more about it here or directly signup here.
If you don’t have a mobile device, can you use it via a Web browser and a desktop or laptop?
Yep, I would recommend signing up via a web browser, since we’ve optimized the experience for the Web. As long as you can receive a text message or email, you can participate in OhmConnect.
One of our founding principles was to ‘democratize energy,’ so we’ve taken great strides to make sure as many people can participate as possible.
OhmConnect potentially seems like a very good way to educate consumers about how electricity is distributed and some of the economics involved, because it is an interactive user experience with a clear incentive. Have you received feedback or any other indication that users are learning at the same time they use the system?
Absolutely, we hear from our customers every day.
Parents of families report on what they and their children have learned and earned from having signed up with OhmConnect, and in many cases the kids either are rewarded with the PayPal payout as their allowance, or we’re hearing that the family donates the their OhmConnect PayPal funds to the charity of their choice, such as the local school.
We found out about the school fundraising event in which parents signed up for OhmConnect, and the funds were donated directly to the elementary school, so we’ve built entire features and tools to help schools and non-profits rally their communities to donate using OhmConnect. Our users are very much a community with a lively, thriving and continual dialog about ways to further reduce their home energy use.
If you’d like to see what some are saying, you can visit the OhmConnect Facebook page, on which users post their personal experiences and energy reduction victories regularly.
Is the service only currently working with several utilities in California?
OhmConnect works with PG&E, SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric, which are the 3 largest electricity suppliers in California. These represent 90% of the California consumer energy market.
When might you expand to other states, and which states would you like to expand into next?
We’re eyeing several other territories which need help with managing their price volatility, which is often driven by high penetration of renewables like solar and wind.