Smart grid technology makes at least one person swoon.

"My knees buckled when I looked at the meter," wrote a participant in a smart grid trial recently conducted by Silver Spring Networks and OG&E Electric Services. "We had twenty little kids running in and out. The air conditioner was running double time. It's convenient to have the ability to see how much you're spending versus normal times."

The two companies rigged up 6,600 apartments in Oklahoma City with smart meters and thermostats that provided tenants with how much power they were consuming and how much they were spending. One of the goals of the trial was to see whether consumers would actually pay attention to price signals from the thermostat and act on it. (OG&E also used the smart meters to turn service off and open new accounts remotely rather than send out a truck.)

Short answer, they will.

"I was not aware of the 2–7 p.m. rate increase or the  'critical' rate period," said another participant.

Skeptics have questioned whether Americans would change their lifestyle or adjust their air conditioners, particularly when the price changes can be measured in pennies. There have also been concerns about thermostat ennui settling in after the honeymoon period. Gas prices didn't become a concern until it approached $4 a gallon.

The results are good news for the smart grid industry and utilities, which can accumulate data like this to woo policy makers and investors. Pacific Gas & Electric, the large California utility, is installing hundreds of thousands of Silver Spring meters a month.

"There is price elasticity for electricity. If you send people information, they will act on it," said Eric Dresselhuys, vice president and co-founder of Silver Spring.

And here are more comments in response to the trial:

  • "I used to wash clothes and dishes during peak hours. I don't do that anymore."
  • "I didn't know there were different rates during the 24-hour period."
  • "I didn't know that peak usage was so much more expensive than other times."
  • "I didn't know that weekend rates cost less."
  • "The best thing is knowing you are saving and being able to calculate or see the amount you are using in a 24-hour period-being able to explain to the children why they were are not able to use the TV in every room."
  • "[I am] not keeping everything plugged in all the time. TVs, etc."
  • "Lights use a lot of electricity."
  • "I didn't know that fluorescent lights take forever to come on to full power, but burn much cooler."
  • "The air conditioner uses more juice than I thought."
  • "[I didn't know] how much electricity we consumed daily and how weather-dependent it was."
  • "I was pretty oblivious before. Didn't pay much attention. You'd get the bill and say, ‘What the hell did we do?' Now I  can at least put my thumb on what kind of costs are involved when your kids are running around."