Smart grid, smart meters _ can they save money too?

Every day, 8 a.m. sharp, an e-mail arrives in Ed Cox's in-box and opens a window to the nation's energy future.

The e-mail reveals Cox's daily household electricity usage for each of the past 15 days. By studying the day-by-day bar graphs, the retired physician realized that his Chapel Hill home was drawing power on days when no one was in. Cox eventually figured out that his old well pump, which runs on electric power, was running round-the-clock instead of shutting off when not in use.

"My best estimate is that we paid $1,700 for wasted electricity over a two-year period," Cox said. "And it would have gone on unnoticed."

Cox's experience highlights one of the potential benefits of the "smart grid" system that will be deployed throughout this country over the next decade. The smart grid concept describes the computerized digital energy network that will eventually replace the nation's aging and inefficient electro-mechanical power grid.

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