Illinois Extension's Energy & Environmental Stewardship and Community & Economic Development teams joined forces to develop and deliver consumer education pertaining to the electric smart grid in Illinois, following the rollout of smart meter installation across the state. To support this project over the past 3 years, they have been awarded sizable grant funding from the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation. The team recently submitted a letter of intent for a fourth year of funding. This grant was specifically designed to provide educational programming to hard-to-reach populations, consisting of rural residents, senior citizens, and low-income audiences, which have been the priority target audiences for this team. Recognizing youth as future decision makers, the team has also expanded their outreach to include youth programming.
With changes in our electric grid come opportunities for consumers to better understand their energy usage behavior and how they can take advantage of recent changes to be more energy efficient and save money. Many rural, low income, and senior audiences also suffer from a high energy burden, which occurs when energy costs exceed 6% of household income. Illinois low-income families spend on average 13% of their income on energy costs, according to Elevate Energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that households with children, residents who identified with a minority racial group or as Hispanic, or who were classified as low income (annual incomes <$20,000) experienced energy insecurity between 35-50%. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that low-income households (those below 80% of area median income) have the potential to save between 17-21% of household electricity costs in Illinois. Together, these statistics show both a need for energy savings and a potential for energy efficiency practices to help rural, senior, and low-income consumers save money.
The smart grid outreach programming has primarily consisted of in-person workshops. These workshops have reached rural residents, senior citizens, and children in a variety of settings. The educational messages include smart grid and smart meter basics, smart home technologies, information on energy savings programs from the electric companies, and energy efficiency tips.
Since the outreach efforts began in 2017 workshops have been held in 62 Illinois communities within 45 counties. In 2019 alone, the project team has delivered education in 37 communities located in 27 counties.
The Illinois Extension Smart Grid Outreach Team received the Interdisciplinary State Team Excellence Award from the University of Illinois Extension for their excellent statewide collaboration addressing smart grid technologies and energy efficiency, a state priority issue.
Smart Grid & Smart Meters
With tried and tested new technology, the 100-year-old electric grid in the United States is getting an upgrade – and so is the way we understand and manage our electricity usage. The SMART grid is a grid modernization. The grid is being replaced and upgraded to allow for a more reliable and streamlined system. which includes automatic reset switches along the grid to aid in power outages, system communications between different pieces of the grid and the control centers, multiple supply sources of electricity to a given point, and isolation of faulty equipment along the grid. This upgrade allows renewable energy sources to be added to the grid and ensures backup electricity sources in case of a storm or emergency situation.
Smart meters are the piece of the smart grid that are most familiar to the public. You may have noticed your old analog meter or an earlier version of a digital meter being replaced with a smart meter. These meters are able to record more frequent energy usage, which is transferred directly to the power company. This means that meter readers no longer need to come to your home to record your electricity usage. This also does away with estimated bills – now your bill exactly reflects your electricity usage. Smart meters are also able to alert the power company automatically in a power outage.
New residential smart technologies are allowing consumers the opportunity to better control their electricity usage. While smart thermostats have been available for several years, they are now joined by smart lightbulbs, smart plugs, smart fire detectors, and more. Many of these devices can be synced and controlled by an app on your smart device. Learning how to take advantage of these technologies can help you better control when and how much energy you consume.
Smart technology can assist in the safety, comfort, and convenience of your home. The Seniors Independent Living Collaborative has information on how senior citizens can take advantage of smart technology to age in place, with applicable information for consumers of all ages.
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reveals that U.S. households are consuming on average approximately 900 kWh of electricity per month, with space cooling and heating, water heating, lighting, and refrigeration being top consumers.
Improving home energy efficiency can help customers reduce energy consumption and potentially save money on utility bills. Improving the energy efficiency of a home does not have to be a costly project. Through simple lifestyle changes and using inexpensive or no cost strategies, a home can become more energy efficient.
Some recommended tips for improving residential energy efficiency include:
Weatherize home to reduce the amount of air that seeps in and out of the house. Consider using caulk to seal cracks, weather stripping to create tight seals, and foam insulating gaskets on light switches and outlets.
Inspect air filters monthly and replace as needed.
Replace traditional incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs. LEDs are 6 -7 times more energy efficient.
Reduce vampire power by unplugging battery chargers and power adapters when not in use. Consider using smart power strips that can automatically sense when electronic devices are not in use.
U.S. Energy Information Administration: https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/
Disasters and the Grid
Natural disasters are a part of life. Tornadoes, flooding, ice storms and hail all occur within Illinois on a regular basis. Homeowners, businesses and local leaders should all be prepared in case one of these causes a loss of electrical power.
According to Energy.gov, during an electrical outage homeowners should shut off electrical appliances to prevent an overload when service is restored. If structural damage to the home has occurred, ensure the electrical system is safe to use.
Businesses should prepare a plan for how the business will attempt to continue during outages. The plan should address both short term and long term outages. Identifying critical functions of energy need, developing backup generator needs, or temporary relocation are items to consider.
Local leaders should review regional and local energy infrastructure, determine potential vulnerabilities, and identify potential energy backup sources, working with local utilities and emergency managers.
The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) has a number of resources that homeowners, businesses and authorities can use to learn more about disaster preparedness. EDEN can be accessed at https://extensiondisaster.net/
If you have questions regarding the smart grid education outreach or are interested in having a smart grid and energy efficiency workshop in your area, then please contact one of the project staff below.