It's as if we like wasting money

  Debate: Do Smart Meters Curb Energy Use? It's said that information is power but could information mean less power, when it comes to electricity use? Environmentalists and makers of so-called smart meters are convinced that's the case. They say if consumers could see in real time how much power they're using, they'd conserve more. But some behavioral economists say no way. They say electricity is so cheap that real-time information might lead people to run their lights and gadgets even more. STEVE INSKEEP, host: There are some things that many of us do not do, even though they would save us money, like switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs or buy a new energy efficient refrigerator, or just turn off the LED Flood Light in an empty room.

It's as if we like wasting money. Now, that's not true, of course, but it is a hard problem to fix. NPR's David Kestenbaum from our Planet Money team has more. DAVID KESTENBAUM (Software Designer, Google): Dan Reicher thinks he knows the solution. Every family just needs to attach this little device to the fusebox in their house. His family did it a few months ago. The device is pretty simple. It just measures the amount of electricity used in the house. He can see the information on a meter in his kitchen or online. Mr. DAN REICHER (Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, Google Inc.): And every time I go to Google something or look at the weather or sports or the stocks, there sits my electricity use, in real time. KESTENBAUM: Can you show me right now? Mr. REICHER: Yeah. Let's see. I'll look back. KESTENBAUM: I need to mention that Dan Reicher works for Google, which wrote the piece of software he's using. It's his job to show this stuff off.

We met at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, where it was often pointed out that conservation, energy efficiency improvements, those are the easiest ways to begin to combat global warming. Reicher thinks there's a simple reason we don't do these things: We lack information. On a laptop, he pulls up the information, a very detailed graph. You can see exactly when his family wakes up because the line goes up: The kids turn the lights on.

His wife uses her hair dryer. Then there's this other huge spike. Mr. REICHER: My six-year-old son saw this the other day, and it finally dawned on him. He was looking at our little meter, which normally is at 200 watts, and this thing shoots up to 1,800 watts. He says, daddy, look. And it was simply the toaster, you know, turning electrical energy into massive heat energy to singe this toast. KESTENBAUM: Every bump or mountain on the chart was a mystery.

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