Getting paid back for the energy you save by turning off appliances or hitting the lights during peak hours—it’s a great idea in theory, but how does it work in practice? The guys behind OhmConnect, a website that facilitates just that, figured it out and are helping people across the state of California reap the benefits of being kind to mother nature.
Launched a little over a year ago, OhmConnect alerts its users (who can sign up for free online to authorize the company access to their home’s smart meter) when energy spikes occur. If you cut back your power consumption at those times, you (or your favorite charity) get paid for the energy. It’s the first company to provide such a service and strives to answer a simple question: “How clean is my energy right now?” We caught up with co-founder Curtis Tongue to learn more.
gb&d: How did the idea for OhmConnect come about?
Curtis Tongue: The idea came about when Matt Duesterberg and I teamed together at a hackathon in the Bay Area. We realized that taking action on climate change poses a mental challenge for most people because, first of all, most actions lack an immediate cause/effect relationship. And secondly, an action a person takes doesn’t directly affect their local vicinity. Keeping these concepts in mind while considering the wholesale electricity market solved those issues.
About once per week, a highly polluting and carbon-intensive power plant turns on in a local community. OhmConnect can pick apart market signals that indicate those power plants are about to turn on, and we coordinate energy savings across a community to ensure that the grid doesn’t need to spin up those generators.
Not only does this significantly reduce our users’ environmental footprint, but by providing a valuable service to the electricity grid, we can actually pay our users for saving energy.
gb&d: So OhmConnect is paid by California’s electricity market, the California ISO. Are regular people able to take advantage of this market in the way that OhmConnect allows them to without using your site/app?
Tongue: No, California’s electricity market requires energy reductions that far exceed what a home is capable of producing. OhmConnect coordinates with users so that the reductions are large enough to be valuable to the grid and we pass back those earnings to our users depending on how much they reduced.Using OhmConnect is completely free. Users simply need to connect their utility account at www.ohmconnect.com, and they’re set.
gb&d: How much money do people typically earn per month and per year by using OhmConnect?
Tongue: It ranges depending on the size of the home, how frequently they participate, and their location. We typically see payments somewhere between $100 and $300 per year.
We’ve seen some amazingly creative uses of these payments. For instance, some local schools have created teams so that their collective earnings are all donated for school supplies, Chromebooks, and other items they need. We’ve also seen office buildings, which can earn significantly more, connect some of their onsite loads and generate quite a bit.
gb&d: What does that translate to in terms of energy savings? And is it really as easy as getting an alert on your phone that now would be a good time to turn some things off and doing so?
Tongue: That’s the fun part about educating folks about our service. It’s far more important, both financially and environmentally, to be smarter about when you save energy. By reducing your energy use just one hour per week, but at the right time, you can earn about 20 times what you’d normally “save” by just being more energy conscious.
We’ve made the platform as simple as possible for people to participate. It’s as simple as getting a text once per week. If you happen to have WiFi thermostats, electric cars, and other home automation equipment, you can easily connect those devices to our automation service. The service, which is all software by the way, orchestrates all the devices in your home to automatically reduce during #OhmHours.
gb&d: Do you plan to expand out of just California?
Tongue: The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled on a decision regarding FERC Order #745. Their decision clears the path for programs like OhmConnect to spread across the entire nation, so it’s a very exciting time for us right now.