The California Public Utility Commission adopted rules on Thursday that will require the state’s three big utilities to provide smart meter data to customers and allow third parties access to the data when authorized by a consumer.

The decision applies to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, all of which are already underway building and enhancing websites for customers to see the data. The information must be provided on a next-day basis and has to be available in hourly or 15-minute intervals.

The big three utilities will also have to design home area technology, or HAN, pilots for up to 5,000 customers. The decision is not surprising, as the CPUC was already finalizing privacy rules for sharing smart meter data with third parties and the California State Senate had already ruled that the utilities had to provide information to their customers as part of Senate Bill 1476.

The next step for the CPUC will be to decide if Thursday’s decision will apply to community choice aggregators and electrical service providers.

Providing customers smart meter data and basic information about their usage is step one in prodding people towards energy efficiency. However, basic information is only one part of the equation.

During a recent webinar hosted by the National Renewable Energy Lab, Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, who studies residential energy-efficiency programs, said that a blend of direct (real-time) and indirect (after consumption) programs are probably best for maximum results. “There may not be a need to take sides,” she said.

Her research found four successful non-economic motivators:

Social norms. Opower made it famous, but everyone else has jumped on board, giving people information that compares them to their neighbors. Historically, Ehrhardt-Martinez found that not enough programs used social science when developing programs, but that has started to change.

Goal setting. This is an aspect missing from many home efficiency programs, but a meta review of research over the decades found that asking people to save a specific amount of energy -- such as perhaps 15 percent savings -- was more effective than open-ended goals. The approach is ideally coordinated with tailored feedback that can help people reach those goals.  

Competition and commitment. Ehrhardt-Martinez said that this was one of the most successful ways to get people to save energy, although the results were probably not as long lasting as other methods. But it’s a great way to kick off a campaign or get people interested. Companies like Efficiency 2.0 and Lucid Design are harnessing competitions -- especially at schools -- to get people interested in energy savings.

Social context. People generally learn from others, rather than just from their utility. While this plays into social norms, it is also its own motivator. Integrating social media options can help people learn from each other and increase the persistence of energy efficiency programs.

Although real-time data was not necessary for savings, it was necessary to get well into double-digit savings, according to Ehrhardt-Martinez’s research. But, as states like California are realizing, basic feedback is an imperative piece of delivering smart grid benefits to the average person. “Smart meters without feedback equals dumb programs,” she said.