Are there pitfalls to joining utility Energy Wise programs

energy efficiencyUtilities

I'm specifically talking about Duke's EnergyWise program, but I'm fairly sure utilities everywhere are adopting similar programs. The idea is that they tie into your major appliances (i.e., heatpump and hot water heater) – during high demand they can temporarily shut off your appliances (maximum of like 16m at a time) and in return you get a credit of up to ~$150 on your power bill over the course of a year.

What are the gotchas for this kind of program? Assuming I'm ok with them occasionally turning off my heat pump and hot water heater for a few minutes every now and then, should I be concerned with anything else?

Best Answer

"What fresh hell is this?" Dorothy Parker

It must be for electric appliances only? It sounds like the biggest pitfall is having no energy when you want it... A one-time $150 credit sounds like a terrible deal. Even $150 every year is small change compared to most yearly utility bills, and the annoyance this could cause.

Here's their image of when you could get your power "cycled" off. Approximately 45% of your possible heat anywhere from 6AM to 11AM, and 6PM to 11PM, and 45% of your possible cooling from 1PM to 11PM. Basically anytime most people are at home and awake:

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You might not even get any credits either, it says "To earn credits, customers must meet minimum energy requirements. Customers with lower energy usage may not qualify." I don't see the minimum energy requirements specified anywhere, other than the "exceeding 600KWh/month you'll get credits even with no cycles" below.

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Some problems I found in their own FAQs on their page for Florida:

Will cycles ever occur outside peak usage periods?
Possibly, but only in the case of critical capacity conditions in the Duke Energy system.

So you could be "cycled off" at anytime, really. Not just "peak usage periods."

How long can I expect to have hot water when the program is being used?
This depends on the size of the water heater tank. A water heater tank is nothing more than a large thermos bottle. The more you conserve, the longer the hot water will last.

So basically you could end up with no hot water during your shower, especially if it's right after you put in a load of laundry using hot water.

Can EnergyWise Home cause damage to my air conditioning or heating system
No. EnergyWise Home cycles your unit the same way as your thermostat. The minimum off time is 10 minutes; therefore, no short cycling damage can occur to the compressor.

Their page is unclear, but if there is an external "EnergyWise Home box" that controls power going to the whole appliance, and if it's red light is on then the appliance has no power. With everything being computer-controlled now, just pulling the plug on an appliance is NOT how the thermostat works. Pulling the plug on any computer isn't usually a good idea, so I don't 100% believe their "no damage" claim.

And with the whole heat/AC system off, that probably includes the basic blower fan, so not only is there no heat/AC but there's not even a breeze to move the air around.

But, elsewhere it says you must have "equipment compatible with EnergyWise Home program technology" so it's possible their box really does just turn off the thermostat, keeping the other power/fan going, so that would sound ok.

When EnergyWise Home cycles my heating or air conditioning unit for 16.5 minutes out of 30 minutes, my unit should run the balance of 13.5 minutes. Is that correct?
Yes. However, there may be exceptions. Electronic thermostats and time delays built into your system can extend the off time, even if the power is back on.

So you'll only have heat/AC for 13.5 x 2 = 27 minutes an hour at the absolute maximum. So about 45% "power" of what you could have. For an extremely cold/hot day it would take twice as long to heat/cool, or you'll just stay colder/hotter than you like.

Will my pool pump freeze if it is interrupted five hours in extremely cold weather?
No. EnergyWise Home allows the pool equipment to operate for five minutes each hour. Customers with solar pool heaters should drain them per the manufacturer's instructions.

I would disagree here, if it's well below zero (maybe not very applicable to Florida, but it could happen, more to other states) then 5 minutes an hour sounds inadequate to prevent freezing. Even if the whole pool would take hours to freeze, once the small pump itself freezes it's game over.

What if I am using a timer on my water heater or swimming pool pump?
If you are using a timer on your water heater or on your swimming pool pump:

  • Set the timer to allow the water heater or pool pump to operate at different times from the peak usage periods for the EnergyWise Home program.
  • Adjust the timer in November and again in April when the EnergyWise Home schedule is switched from winter to summer.
  • Adjust the timer for daylight saving time.
  • Check the timer periodically for proper clock time.

This sounds excruciatingly annoying, I'd rather pay $150 than fiddle with changing a timer 4+ times a year and checking/adjusting it's clock every month.

Maybe if you've got mainly gas appliances (furnace / pool heater / water heater) then just one being forced off sometimes might not affect you much at all, a pool would probably take the longest to cool down & notice. But then you won't get the full credits anyway.

If you never notice hot vs warm water & air, and meet their "minimum energy [usage] requirements" then maybe it's for you. I'd say switching to gas might be a better idea, depending on your local electricity vs gas prices. Or even propane & your own tank if that's possible.