Survey: Americans ‘Learned Helplessness’ From Rising Utility Bills

Although residential electricity consumption is increasing, a national survey finds Americans blame their utilities or inefficient homes for their rising energy bills rather than themselves for using more power.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / CCarvell

The survey by Knoxville-based Shelton Group found Americans are more likely to blame an inefficient home—25 percent think their homes are inefficient—or utilities (18 percent), and not their own demand for energy (12 percent). Worse, many who have changed habits or made energy-efficient improvements said their utility bills have remained the same or gone up.

“We’re seeing an unfortunate consumer tendency to avoid responsibility for wasting energy,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “Instead, more people are blaming outside forces over which they feel they have little or no control. It’s a case of learned helplessness: People are giving up on conserving energy because they think there’s nothing they can do.”

Shelton’s eighth annual Energy Pulse survey found 80 percent of Americans think they’re using the same or less energy than in the past. Residential electricity consumption, however, has increased, according to government statistics.

Shelton’s survey also found:

  • Consumers have a high tolerance for bill increases. When asked how much their bill would have to increase to force them to make energy-efficient renovations, consumers’ average answer was $120. Based on the average reported winter heating bill ($162.80), this would be a 74 percent increase, or a 73 percent increase over the average reported summer cooling bill ($164.50).
  • Americans have increasingly unrealistic expectations for returns on energy-efficient improvement investments. When asked how much they would have to save to justify spending $4,000 on energy-efficient improvements, expectations were beyond realistic: $139 per month. That works out to an annual savings of $1,668, or a reduction of some 85 percent, based on the average reported utility bill. There was a significant jump in the number of Americans who expect to knock more than $200 off their monthly energy bills—up 10 percent this year to 16 percent. This would require a homeowner to be nearly off the grid and generating his or her own energy.
  • The propensity to make energy-efficient product purchases is generally down from last year. Improvements with the highest propensities include a solar system (32 percent said they are likely or very likely to install one, up 8 percent over last year), new water heater (15 percent, down 5 percent) and windows (15 percent, down 3 percent).
  • When offered a solar energy lease option requiring no money down, interest jumped to more than 60 percent. This increased desire for solar connects back to consumers’ desire for an 85 percent reduction in monthly bills. Installing solar most likely is the only way most could achieve such a reduction. This might be another clue to some Americans’ emerging desire to pull away from centralized energy systems and establish personal energy independence.

What about the many other Americans who have given up trying to conserve energy? Shelton said utilities could take several steps to get Americans back on the bandwagon, including:

  • Providing more smart meters and energy-monitoring tools to get consumers more engaged and educated on their energy consumption.
  • Offering incentives that re-
    ward multiple energy-efficient improvements, rather than one-off improvements, to help homeowners reach the number of actions required to see real reductions in their bills.
  • Shifting to time-of-use billing to give homeowners new incentive to conserve energy at peak use.

“It’s all about giving consumers a feeling of control,” Shelton said. “Americans want power over their utility bills, and right now, they feel they don’t have that.”

Newton-Evans Releases 15 Market Snapshots on High-voltage Equipment Topics in US

The Newton-Evans Research Co. has published a set of 15 U.S. high-voltage (HV) equipment market two-page summaries.

The new series of market overview reports includes supplier listings, representative products and estimated market size for each topic, vendor market share estimates, and market outlook through 2014.

For many topics, equipment and system cost ranges also are provided. Electric utilities accounted for some 88 to 90 percent of all purchases of HV equipment, used mainly in transmission-class electric power substations. Total 2011 spending for the equipment included in the series exceeded $5 billion, with a similar level of spending reported for medium and large power transformers.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Kaspri

Unlike other categories in the series, the HV equipment market is characterized by a specialized group of manufacturers, resulting in a high degree of market shares held by these few companies. Economists use two manufacturing concentration ratios.

The first, known as CR4 ratios, is a measure of U.S. market dominance in the hands of four suppliers and manufacturers.

The second calculation is the CR8, a measure of U.S. market dominance among up to eight leading manufacturers.

For each HV equipment category, Newton-Evans has found that more than 70 percent of each of the covered HV equipment markets is shared by four or fewer companies. The CR8 ratio found in this study indicates the market share for eight suppliers or fewer is nearly 100 percent in each category, as calculated by Newton-Evans Research. This differs from other transmission and distribution categories studied this year, wherein significantly lower concentration ratios are found at the CR4 level.

Neptune Regional Transmission System Update

Neptune Regional Transmission System (NRTS) was a first-of-its-kind effort to transmit energy via undersea cable between New Jersey and New York. Back then, the project was low-profile, and its general counsel and principals were considered ragtag. Neptune, however, persevered.

Nearly five years ago in 2007, the project was completed successfully. Now, the 660-MW undersea energy transmission line connects New Jersey’s PJM grid to Long Island, N.Y., which at the time was the only location that had shut down its nuclear power plant because of public opposition.

The NRTS normally supplies more than 20 percent of the power to Long Island. The Neptune project helped lead the way for market-based rates for electricity, as opposed to cost-based rates. Investors took on all the debt and did not rely on the public to bail it out if the project went late, over budget or both—which it did not. Neptune does not seek a return on its investment from ratepayers. The price of power in New Jersey has not skyrocketed as skeptics predicted. There has been no impact to wildlife as skeptics predicted. This has been confirmed through continued monitoring. Neptune made grid improvements as required by the regulators, which single-handedly ushered in new types of energy generation in the region.

“NRTS contributed nearly $15 million in direct interconnection and grid improvements as part of the interconnection process,” said James Broder, NRTS project partner. “It also pays its proportional allocated share of ongoing PJM grid improvements through the annual Regional Transmission Expansion Plan assessment process.”

A 34kv spare transformer stored at the Neptune converter station on Long Island. Courtesy Jack Montgomery.

A 345kv spare transformer stored at the Neptune converter station on Long Island. Courtesy Jack Montgomery.

Instead of being equated with Saturday morning cartoons, project partners including legal counsel Broder are considered pioneers in energy transmission using undersea cable.

In addition, a similar group of ragtag investors, including Broder, more recently formed Hudson Transmission Partners. The Hudson project moved more slowly than Neptune; the opposition was more organized and more grid improvements were necessary. These pioneers, however, recently achieved a milestone with the installation of the undersea cable network from northern New Jersey, traveling under the Hudson River to Manhattan’s West 49th Street substation. It will come online in the second quarter of 2013 and will provide 660 MW of power, which is enough power to light nearly 1 million homes.

The future of the industry is brighter as a result of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) Order 1000, which leveled the playing field for merchant transmitters vis-àƒ -vis incumbent utilities.

“NRTS has shown that a substantially sized (660-MW) interconnection between two RTO’s was technically and economically feasible, while enhancing regional reliability and lowering costs to consumers,” Broder said. “NRTS also showed that a truly independent merchant developer with no utility parent could work closely with regulators and incumbent utilities while taking the full development and construction risk of a $650 million project and delivering a major interstate transmission infrastructure asset on time, on budget and operate it reliably for the long run delivering the anticipated systemically and consumer benefits.”

Broder also is working on two additional Northeast energy projects. Champlain Wind Link, if approved, would expand transmission capacity between upstate New York and the New England grid by going beneath Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York (because going through the Adirondacks poses challenges). And Greenline, a project in early development, would deliver 800 MW of renewable power from the Canadian Maritimes and Maine to the southern New England market, beginning in Houlton over land to Searsport and then subsea to Boston.

Broder is a partner at Bernstein Shur, a law firm in Portland, Maine.

Earth Networks Unveils Results of e5 Home Program

© Bastetamon |


Earth Networks announced results from its e5 home energy efficiency and demand response program that debuted this spring in more than 1,000 Houston-area homes in partnership with CenterPoint Energy Inc. and technology partners EnergyHub and Radio Thermostat.

“The e5 program provides flexibility and an innovative approach to a longstanding challenge: how to decrease the demand for electricity during times of peak usage while also providing residents with control over their own comfort,” said Jarrett Simon, director of energy efficiency at CenterPoint Energy. “By piloting e5, we wanted to give customers in our service territory the opportunity to conserve energy, save money, and help the environment.”

E5 combines real-time neighborhood-level weather conditions, a thermostat management platform, Internet-connected thermostats and smart meter data to help homeowners conserve energy, stay comfortable and save money while helping utilities shift grid load during peak times. Using weather data and a customer-specific thermodynamic model that depicts how a home heats and cools, e5 anticipates the peak temperature during the day and determines when to pre-cool to save energy. The e5 program also calculates how far in advance of an upcoming setback the air conditioner can be turned off without the home’s temperature rising more than 1 degree F from the current set point to further increase efficiency.

Traditional residential demand response programs often are met with resistance because consumers lose control of their thermostats, but e5 lets homeowners remain in charge of their thermostat settings.

The e5 program also takes the burden off utilities to install and troubleshoot home thermostats because consumers choose, purchase and set their own units. E5 maintains each customer’s desired comfort level while optimizing energy by pre-cooling or pre-heating his or her home in response to forecasted weather and demand response events.

Based on a third-party analysis of a representative sample of thermostats in the Houston area during three separate demand response events this summer, the e5 program demonstrated the following results:

  • Overall, the e5 program resulted in an average two-times energy savings, or 13.8 percent savings compared with 6 percent savings for the average 2 degree F setback used by pilot homes prior to the pilot.
  • On average, e5 removed an average of 1.2 kW of load for the duration of the peak-hour demand response event when activated within an hour’s notice. This is equivalent to running an air conditioner 75 percent less on the hottest days of the year.
  • In a subset of efficient homes, enough energy was stored via pre-cooling that the air conditioner did not need to turn on. This occurred in the 24 percent of thermostats that shifted between 2 kW and 6.33 kW. In all cases, efficiency was achieved without raising the indoor air temperature more than 2 degrees above the homeowners’ thermostat set points.
  • E5 accurately predicts the thermal response of each house in the program. For example, during a demand response event, an efficient home reduced 2.87 kW of load using e5 while only experiencing a 1.5 degree increase in home temperature. A less efficient home shifted an average load of 1.89 kW with a maximum temperature increase of 2 degrees. In contrast, with traditional 50 percent air conditioning cycling, the efficient home would realize a load reduction of only .2 kW while the less efficient home would shift only 1.1 kW and experience an increase in home temperature of at least 4 degrees.
  • The e5 program demonstrated impressive results when compared with traditional thermostat-based demand response programs. The e5 program kept homes, on average, within 1.5 degrees of the users’ comfort settings during demand response events.

How Can Utilities Prepare, Plan for Unpredictable?

After the U.S. suffered the worst storm in East Coast history, storm response is on everyone’s mind. So how can utilities prepare and plan for the unpredictable?

The best and successful storm response is managed through “a combination of people, process and technology,” said Jeff Lewis, an expert in electric utility reliability at PA Consulting Group and ReliabilityOne program director. Lewis has completed more than 100 certifications of systems and processes that include emergency response plans for major events.

Courtesy LIPA

“According to our analysis, we observed that five of 11 utilities across the tristate area restored power to over 90 percent of their customers by Sunday, November 4,” Lewis said. “However, while the majority of customers may have been restored within the general estimated time of restoration (ETR) of seven to 10 days, many customers may experience outages for over two weeks after the storm and will have to bear yet another weekend without power in freezing temperatures.”

For utilities, strategic preparation and planning for major storms improves restoration times, minimizes risks to public safety, and improves public perception of utilities, as the extreme weather impacts from hurricanes Sandy and Irene during the past two years have shown.

He said regulators are responding in an unprecedented manner that requires utilities to improve all aspects of their restoration practices, including readiness, communications and outage reporting, and restoration.

“People” involves optimal staffing coverage by hour, day and month along with appropriate training. “Process” involves response time reduction through best practice implementation and communication. And “technology” involves data analysis and organization through mobile solutions in the field. A robust pre-storm preparation will lay the foundation for a successful response, and this preparation is paramount when dealing with a major event.

People. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged utilities to make more progress and “throw out their playbooks,” fast tracking discussions with the Federal Energy Management Agency to coordinate additional resources to restore power. And although it might be too early to assess the repercussions or the full cost recovery sought by utilities, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo instructed the state public service commission to begin proceedings to revoke certificates for utilities that had performed poorly.

In an effort to aid restoration, utilities mobilized employees and contractors and secured some 17,000 additional linemen, including out-of-state utility assistance from as far as California. These increases, however, came nearly four days after the storm. To improve effectiveness and response times, utilities should:

  • Recruit and train personnel to identify and conduct duties such as monitoring live downed wire locations where the utilities’ safety is at risk. Improve coordination of mutual aid groups beyond routine phone calls among affected parties that are searching for additional linemen. The recruitment should leverage all available technology and report the number of resources available, skill sets and other considerations to ensure adequate resourcing, obtain formal union vs. nonunion storm waivers, and include the use of nonelectric operations resources, meter techs and retirees.
  • Consider the use of specialized logistics companies to initiate pre-staging of resources, lodging, meals and materials.

Process and technology. After many customers experienced power outages for more than a week after Sandy and Irene and more than 6 million customers without power in the tristate region, some utilities’ responses have drawn the wrath of regulators and politicians.

Lewis said the key challenge for utilities to accurately issue ETRs after Sandy has been to assess storm damage. In some areas, the effort has required utilities to rebuild entire sections of their electric distribution systems. A combination of process and technology can improve this stage of storm response in communication to customers and response and restoration:

  • Establish ETR baselines using historic averages by region or equipment type so these can be used when a storm hits.
  • Leverage mobile technology to report damage in real time to utility control centers via videos or pictures. Many utilities across the nation are integrating sophisticated geospatial information systems, outage management systems and mobile technology in the field to improve their ETRs during storms.
  • Optimize websites, mobile platforms and social media to include information for customers on important storm preparations and how it will affect them.

Adopting a rigorous storm response plan that incorporates people, process and technology puts utilities in the best position to restore customers’ power quickly while battling the elements, repairing and replacing infrastructure, recruiting support internally and from utilities across the nation, as well as coordinating effectively with their customers, the media, local authorities and regulators.

Long Island Power Authority Chief Resigns Amid Sandy Woes

After receiving much criticism for Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA’s) response to Hurricane Sandy, Chief Operating Officer Mike Hervey submitted his resignation.

LIPA Chairman Howard E. Steinberg issued the following statement Nov. 13 on the LIPA website.

“Today, Mike Hervey, tendered his resignation as Chief Operating Officer of the Long Island Power Authority, to be effective at the end of the year. On behalf of the Board of Trustees I have accepted his resignation, with regret.

“Mike has provided 12 years of valuable service to LIPA, including taking on the responsibility to perform the functions of CEO of the organization over the past two years. Mike has played a leadership role in connection with the planned structural changes at LIPA going forward which will result in better service and accountability to LIPA’s customers in the years ahead.”

Hervey’s resignation came on the same day New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation into the state’s utilities.

Cuomo said Sandy’s impact raised questions about utility readiness.

Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to more than 1 million customers in LIPA’s service area. As of press time, the utility had restored some 99 percent of outages and was working on the remaining 35,000 to 38,000 outages, according to reports. According to LIPA, up to 7,300 customers in Nassau and Suffolk and 24,500 in the Rockaway Peninsula were unable to safely receive power without customer repairs.

Persistent flooding and extensive infrastructure damage has slowed power restoration, according to the utility.

In a June report, New York’s Department of Public Service called LIPA’s customer communication system inadequate.

The utility began a two-year process of revamping its system following Hurricane Irene, according to reports.

LIPA has some 100 employees and uses U.K.-based National Grid as its primary contractor.

According to LIPA’s website, “Some customers remain without power because of the two storms, and we will not rest until all customer issues are addressed. Outage numbers will continue to fluctuate as new outages not related to these storms occur. Our substantial workforce will continue to work 24/7 to restore power.”


Ambient Corp., ELO Sistemas Eletràƒ´nicos bring smart grid to South America

Smart grid communications provider Ambient Corp. and Brazil-based metering provider ELO Sistemas Eletràƒ´nicos announced their partnership to bring smart grid communications technology to South America.

The partnership combines Ambient Smart Grid Platform communications technology and network management software with ELO’s leadership position in electronic meters and smart meter solutions. Ambient’s flexible platform enables utilities to deploy and integrate multiple smart grid applications and technologies in parallel on a single communications infrastructure. Delivering end-to-end smart grid technology solutions, Ambient partners with systems integrators, smart grid technology vendors and communications service providers. The partnership will enable ELO to bring advanced communications technologies for smart meter-reading applications to its utility customers. The two companies expect to have the integrated system ready for pilot in 2012 in preparation for volume rollouts beginning in 2013.

“We are excited to provide our customers with the added benefits of Ambient’s IP standards-based, open platform architecture ensuring interoperability of technologies,” said Marcos Rizzo, vice president of business development for ELO Sistemas Eletràƒ´nicos. “By leveraging Ambient’s communications platform, we will deliver greater grid visibility, control and financial returns for our customers.”

The partnership permits ELO to sell and deploy Ambient’s technology platform, allowing ELO to respond quickly, cost-effectively and efficiently to ranging utility needs.

DNV KEMA surveys smart grid demos around the world

Energy consulting and testing and certification company DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability was hired by Netbeheer Nederland—the Association of Energy Network Operators in the Netherlands—to study smart grid demonstration projects around the world with a focus on technical, policy, regulatory and social aspects.

The points learned from this study will help inform network operators involved in current and future smart grid projects in the Netherlands.


The study focused on the differences among continents. For instance, in the U.S., smart grids are used mainly to make variable energy rates possible and reduce peaks in electricity use. In Europe, the emphasis is on energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, whereas in parts of Asia, the priority is on improving the reliability of the energy network.


Smart grids can be used to counter peaks in energy consumption because they can be used with pricing incentives; however, a rates incentive alone is often insufficient to reduce demand. Consumer involvement is also necessary to achieve this. Energy displays and smart phone applications in particular increase consumers’ awareness of their energy consumption. A strong argument for many people is that they enable financial savings with this. Still, many consumers remain unaware of smart grid opportunities. It is important that this changes to gain sufficient support for this new technology. End users’ acceptance determines the success of a smart grid.


Smart grids are an important precondition to making the energy transition possible. Dutch network operators invest some 1.5 billion euros annually in the replacement and expansion of their grids. The Netbeheer Nederland report “Networks for the future” showed that between 20 and 70 billion euros extra must be invested before 2050 to adapt and smarten the energy grids. It is imperative that these investments be practical. An earlier cost-benefit analysis showed that smart grids are profitable because of consumer behavioral adaptation in response to variable energy rates, as well as cost savings in the construction of the energy grid.


Before network operators can decide to make such sizeable investments, they first must gain smaller-scale experience with the different aspects of a smart grid. To that end, the network operators started test sites where these aspects are tested for feasibility in practice. The experiences are shared among network operators and other stakeholders, with the aim of using this knowledge to make the right choices. Now the results of the DNV KEMA study can be used for this purpose, as well.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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