For much of humanity today, getting out of bed is followed, very closely, by turning on a bunch of stuff. We crank up the heat. We start the coffee. We click on the morning news.
Some of us then go to work — and turn the stuff off again before we leave. Some of us don’t (either work, or turn our stuff off). Some of us get home from work and crash — but some of us stay up late, with lots of lights on, watching television, listening to music, working on the computer.
More stuff — sucking up electricity.
These patterns comprise what you might call our diverse “energy personalities” — which are theoretically capable of being quantified in terms of how much power we use across the day. Heck, these personalities could ultimately be reduced all the way down to flows of electrons. But the data have never been easily accessible to create such profiles — or, at least, not until now.
Opower is an Arlington, Va.-based software firm that works with power companies to help them better connect with their customers and, potentially, change their customers’ behavior. This role gives the company access to a ton of data, including from smart meters, which record our energy use and convey it back to utility companies in intervals of 15 minutes or less. (Opower protects customer data and confidentiality; you can read its privacy principles here.)
Using this data, Opower’s Nancy Hersh, the company’s vice president of analytics, recently plotted the energy use of more than 800,000 homes over a 24-hour period. The resulting figure (not shown), in Hersh’s words, resembled a “hairball.” It was a blur of tangled lines, running horizontally, zigzagging from midnight to midnight.
But after Hersh and her team applied some “exploratory techniques” to the data, they saw that there were actually five separate clusters within the seemingly chaotic mess — representing five separate lifestyles that people tend to pursue. “The hairball can actually be untangled into these five separate ways that customers are living,” Hersh says.
Here’s the result — for a representative group of 1,000 customers, not the full 800,000:
There’s several things to note about this image. One is that even when people are sleeping, they’re never using zero power. That’s because of all the objects in the home, like cable boxes and cable televisions and various Internet-connected devices, that never actually turn off.
The second thing to notice is that there are five well-trod paths for using energy over the course of the day —- or, if you’ll permit, five major personalities. “Every customer that we have smart meter data on can be classified into one of those five curves,” Hersh says.
Hersh and her team gave five names for the five curves and the types of people they represent:
Then, based on additional demographic data, they examined what kinds of people tend to be Daytimers, vs. Evening Peakers, vs. Steady Eddies.
“The Night Owl group skews young and apartment condo dwellers. And the Daytimers skew old with few children,” Hersh says. “And the thing I love about this, compare Night Owls to Daytimers, just the curves themselves, they’re mirror opposites.”
What of the other shapes? According to Hersh, Steady Eddies tend to live in condos and have a high level of winter energy usage from electric heating; Evening Peakers represent single-family homes that use a lot of power in the summer on air conditioning; and Twin Peaks tends to be wealthier families, also in single-family homes whose heat source is electric, not gas.
Data like these aren’t just a cool curiosity — they have big relevance for utility companies and for their customers. Why? Because depending on your energy personality, there are likely to be very different ways and strategies for you to save money and reduce your energy use.
“Let’s imagine there’s two energy-efficiency programs, one aimed at reducing consumption during peak periods and a different one that’s aimed at reducing base load,” Hersh says. “I want the one that’s useful to me. So when I have a big peak in the afternoon, having the program that’s aimed at reducing peak [usage] is going to be much more relevant to me. Whereas if I’m flat like a Steady Eddie, the big lever for me is not peak, it’s reducing my baseline. So it gives me more control over my energy use.”
So how can you figure out your energy personality, so that you can start saving? Currently, Opower doesn’t produce these charts for individuals, though Hersh says it is considering whether to do so.
In the meantime, if you have a smart meter, your utility probably provides an online portal where you can see your power usage, hour by hour. It probably won’t look like the curves above, but it will help you get a sense. By just knowing your own habits and patterns, you may also be able to guess which group you’re in and let that inform how you use power in your home.
“The ability to bring alive consumer smart meter data is a super exciting area for me,” Hersh says. “For the first time, utilities have just hoards and hoards and hoards of smart meter data, and it’s just sitting there. This changes around this paradigm.”