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Free Program Can Help Homeowners Curb Energy Costs

Innovative software is designed to track energy use in large homes using PG&E SmartMeters.

Owners of larger homes in Los Altos Hills and selected nearby communities have a new tool they can use to identify and plug energy leaks.

 Acterra, a non-profit environmental education agency based in Palo Alto, is administering a program called High Energy Homes. The HEH program uses online software to track and analyze energy use at participating homes through Pacific Gas & Electric SmartMeters.

There is no cost to homeowners to participate in the program which is funded by a grant of just over $166,000 from the California Energy Commission. It is also available to residents of Atherton, Monte Sereno, Portola Valley and Woodside.

Will the program be expanded to other cities?

“While we would like to expand to Los Altos (and all the towns of the Peninsula), it’s not on the horizon at this time,” Debbie Mytels, Associate Director at Acterra, wrote in an email. She added that funding for the program was targeted exclusively for working with residents who live in “high energy” communities where the average household PG&E bill is three times the Northern California average.

The HEH program is designed for larger homes – typically 3,000 square feet or more – because they are more likely to have appliances that use a lot of energy such as whole house audio systems, hot water recirculation pumps, multiple entertainment centers, several refrigeration appliances, and swimming pools or spas. Many of these features can be put on timers which can dramatically reduce energy use.

The software works by identifying energy leaks that are typically related to electrical plug loads, and then provides homeowners with low-cost, specific recommendations on how to fix them.

Unlike some energy audit programs where a technician comes to a home and physically measures energy use and looks for possible leaks, the HEH program is done entirely online. To participate in the program, homeowners must meet several requirements:

  • Reside in a community covered by the HEH program
  • Have a PG&E SmartMeter installed at their home
  • Have lived in their home at least 12 months

While homeowners are participating in the program, auditors working with Acterra track the energy use results from the HEH software and provide phone support to homeowners. They currently are tracking results from about 1,000 homes in the area.   

Results from the program are secure and are available only to auditors or technical support staff that homeowners may call. Because Federal Stimulus Funds are being used for the program, the California Energy Commission will receive summarized results. However, participants’ names, addresses or other personal information will be kept confidential.

Mytels said funding for the HEH program must be spent by next June. So it’s important that anyone interested in participating in the program contact Acterra soon. She added that a specific deadline to sign up for the program hasn’t yet been set, but it’s likely one will be set in the spring.   

Residents in Los Altos Hills can sign up for the HEH program by visiting the Acterra website at www.acterra.org/highenergy. They should have their PG&E bill handy to type in their bill number and create a PG&E online log in program.

For details on the program, homeowners can call Davena Gentry at 650-962-9876, extension 305.

Sam December 30, 2011 at 03:08 AM
This sounds like a good program and I hope it spreads to other cities. It also illustrates the value of the new PG&E SmartMeters. They've been getting too much negative publicity in the media recently. I think for the majority of people, they're working quite well.

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