While my first reaction to power company-sponsored efficiency initiatives is always, isn't there an inherent conflict of interest here? I still admire what Xcel is doing in Boulder, Colorado. The utility company is investing $100 million upgrading Boulder's power infrastructure, a project they're calling "SmartGridCity." The first house, owned by the University of Colorado's chancellor, Bud Peterson, was unveiled this summer (it was the day before Sarah Palin's selection, so it's no surprise the news was met with stunning silence). Chief among the features: the ability to program heating and cooling into individual rooms, instead of the whole house; and feedback ("two-way communication") from the Xcel to tell them when power is readily available and, therefore, cheaper (or, for instance, when the wind is especially strong so their power will be drawn from that renewable source rather than a, well, dirtier option).

The Petersons' "deluxe" edition smart house comes with a "command console" to manage programming the power use in their house (check out the video from NBC after the jump). It's a big investment (and comes with solar panels from which the Petersons' electric car often gets its charge), making the whole project somewhat utopian. What can you do to save money before your power company develops a smart grid?
  • Ask if your utility company charges less for using power during the night or on other off times, and wait to use your most power-hungry appliances until then.
  • If you don't have a programmable thermostat, consider investing in one; the "smart" versions aren't enormously expensive at $150-$400.
  • In the kitchen, keep your fridge and freezer as full as possible, and make sure your fridge is set between 38 and 42 degrees. There are a bunch of great tips on keeping your kitchen energy-efficient here.
  • Wrap your water heater with an insulating blanket.
  • Use solar even if you don't have solar panels; cover your windows in the summer and uncover them in the winter. More tips on saving money on energy are here.
Oh: the power company does benefit from all this, if it's used correctly by consumers. When individuals choose to use power during off times to charge appliances and electric cars, the company will avoid surges and outages; what's more, there is considerable marketing power in providing electricity with a higher "green" profile.

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