Consumers Can Get Smart with Power Bills

Sep 28, 2009
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst,
Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Awareness is
gradually dawning that there are things individuals can and should do to
reduce our contribution to the disasters of climate change. Some are easier
than others but many are downright shocking. Who knew – or cared – until
recently that turning off the television didn’t actually turn off the electricity
that powers it?

Ditto all those
new gadgets in which we’ve been revelling just as we should have been waking
up to their greater impact. Everything from our telephone chargers (because
cellphones are so much more convenient than landlines) to our games equipment
(because staying in is the new going out) wastes power and, even more shocking,
costs money even when we’re not using them.

Awareness has
dawned more than gradually that we want – and need – to save money.

The New York
as one example a family of four who discovered, on “the night the family
turned off the overhead lights at their home in Maine and began hunting
gadgets that glowed in the dark” just how much power they were using. “It
was amazing to see all these lights blinking,” Peter Troast, the father,

Part of the
problem is that many modern gadgets cannot entirely be turned off; even
when not in use, they draw electricity while they await instructions on
what to do next.

Now converted,
the Troast family’s monthly energy use has been “cut by some 16 percent,
partly by plugging computers and entertainment devices into smart power
strips that turn off when electronics are not in use, cutting power consumption
to zero,” according to the Times.

the situation, by household, could help put the problem into perspective.
The International Energy Agency, for example, says that “worldwide, consumer
electronics now represent 15 percent of household power demand, and that
is expected to triple over the next two decades.” Satisfying the demands
of our favorite gadgets would mean having to build “the equivalent of 560
coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants.”

Since efficiency
standards for appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines were
introduced in the US in 1990, average power consumption has been reduced
by anything from 45 to 70 percent on equivalent models. But flat-panel
televisions can require more power than some refrigerators and attempts
to introduce mandatory limits for electronics have been resisted on grounds
of both cost and restrictions to innovation.

questions: How would you rate the demand for energy-saving devices? Should
they be marketed more for environmental or money saving reasons? How
amenable are Americans to arguments around products such as smart power
strips that initially cost more but save a lot down the road?

commentary] With effective and relatively inexpensive ways to reduce
outgoings of both power and cash increasingly available, perhaps there
is an opportunity for retailers to make friends and profits through a
bit of well-placed marketing and promotion.

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "Consumers Can Get Smart with Power Bills"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Roger Saunders
11 years 7 months ago

Show the consumer, and the businesses, who use energy where, how, and how much they can save with energy saving devices–point out the benefits (carrot), and you’ll see behavior modification. Use policy mandates (stick), and we’ll waste time debating the value of these devices–be they for energy conservation, environmental impact, or cost savings.

Consumers and private enterprise have a solid interest in seeing and enjoying the cost savings–SHOW THEM THE MONEY.

Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
11 years 7 months ago
I have seen more and more marketing towards “green” consumers, but most of it has been driven by cleaning products rather than power consumption. The challenge that RSR has seen for brands and retailers navigating this “green” landscape is one of perception–especially in today’s world where information flows very quickly, and the green community is one of the most connected. If you introduce green products, and make a big push behind helping the consumer be more eco-savvy, then you better have your ducks in a row internally for your own operations. You won’t have the legitimacy to promote green to consumers unless you can prove that you are at least trying to be more green yourself. So, it’s true that power consumption is an “untapped” opportunity, but retailers and brands alike need to make sure they can legitimately offer solutions in this area. Otherwise, they will end up with Unilever’s Dove vs. Axe problem, except it will surface as “That’s great that Retailer X is promoting energy efficiency. Too bad their stores are some of… Read more »
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 7 months ago

Unfortunately, it is not realistic to think that all Americans are focused on saving the planet. That said, most Americans are very interested in savings a few dollars every month especially after this last financial meltdown.

Personally, I am investigating meters that measure power usage of electronics in my home so I can get a better handle on what is drawing the most power. It is unrealistic to think that oil (and electricity) prices will not continue to rise over the next 10-15 years so I see this trend growing.

You can tell a new trend is taking hold when a product moves from just being sold in Sharper Image or some other specialty catalog to mainstream retail. The meters to measure electricity that were only available through specialty shops 2 years ago are now available at Ace Hardware, Sears and Home Depot.

Mel Kleiman
11 years 7 months ago

Power companies and the government really do not want to build more power plants so let’s not worry about green but let’s show the consumer the cost savings and if it as a decent pay back period the think the idea will catch on.

The only thing is, this is going to be a slow move because consumers are not going to get rid of the flat screen because it uses power when they are sleeping. If there is a cost effective device I can put between the appliance and the socket that will control energy flow when not in use that is what is going to sell.

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
11 years 7 months ago

While efficient use of power makes sense, a penny saved is a penny earned, it is also prudent to have saved enough fuel to keep us warm in the coming ice age. Brrrrrrrrrr!

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 7 months ago
The good news is that there is no reason to be concerned about saving energy. Even if you don’t care so much about going green, you can save thousands a year by reducing your usage of electricity, and by reducing the cost of that usage. Remember, the electric company charges more per kWh the more you use. The higher tiers of usage cost up to 3x the cost per unit as the base tiers of usage. You not only want to reduce how much you use, but how much you pay for what you use. I am putting solar panels on my house taking advantage of new programs in the marketplace. I am not buying nor leasing the solar equipment. I am only paying for the power it generates…and at a lower cost per kWh than the electric company charges for their higher tiers. If more consumers were aware of this, their would be more “energy” around this topic. Retailers are educating consumers through their own power management best practices.
Gene Detroyer
11 years 7 months ago
It is very difficult to be environmentally aware and pro-active without some measure. And that measure must be understood by those who are active in the process. Saving the equivalent of 230 nuclear power plants is a totally meaningless figure to most people. And certainly, not knowing if neighbors are taking same action is a disincentive to continuing to be environmentally aggressive. Ultimately, the most meaningful measure is the money. And, it doesn’t matter if it is looked at as a measure of money in the pocket or just a measure of accomplishment for environmentally aggressive actions. Energy use labels on all appliances not only make the decisions significant to the customer, but they become a competitive measure for a manufacturer. The manufactures will then make energy usage one of their target selling points, continually developing more and more energy efficiency into their products. Well beyond the concern about phone chargers and flat screen TVs is the coming development in electric automobiles. If even a small share of the automobile market tips toward electric cars,… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
11 years 7 months ago

I’m with DrCellmor. The freest country in the world is also the most productive and prosperous. It’s not a coincidence that it is also one of the cleanest. We have all these people with supercomputers predicting the state of world climate fifty years from now, when they couldn’t predict the global financial meltdown one year in advance.

The “global warming” fiasco was a political tool for gaining control of the people of the world, and it will fade from memory as soon as some other excuse for telling people what to do comes along.

W. Frank Dell II
11 years 7 months ago

The American consumer is not stupid. Most will pay up to 10% more for an item that is earth friendly, but not much more. Above 10% they are looking for a payback of 3 years or less. Like organic food there are very small percentages that are diehards, but the majorities are rational. They like the idea but will not pay through the nose.

David Biernbaum
11 years 7 months ago

Let’s be candid. The majority of American consumers are interested in power-saving devices that save money. As far as “saving the planet,” I’m skeptical about how many American consumers truly believe and are willing to pay a premium.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
11 years 7 months ago

There’s definitely a market for energy-saving devices. And while I can’t quantify it, I’m pretty sure that whatever its current size, it will only grow with more education. It’s education that is key (minus government regs). That learning should include both the environmental benefits as well as cost savings. Some consumers will respond to one, some the other and some will respond to both. Regardless, education is what will help consumers change their behaviors.

I’d add that we also need a healthy dose of patience. Change takes time, as accurately noted by the more efficient refrigerator and washer examples in the NYTimes article. And in this case, we’re talking about not only changing consumer behavior but the consumer’s perception of always-on convenience. The latter may actually prove harder to unplug.


Take Our Instant Poll

How would you assess the current market for energy-saving devices in light of the economy?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...