Last week there was a

by francine Hardaway on October 25, 2002

Last week there was a DDOS attack on the thirteen root Internet servers in Washington. Nine of them went down before it was detected. No one is talking about it, but terrorism is possible in cyberspace like anywhere else. It’s a good time to have Edgeos ( test your network for vulnerability. Edgeos is a low-cost, high-efficiency way to make sure your network stays protected from all security threats — not just viruses. If you sign up and I get five bucks from the referral program, I’ll use it to buy you a frappacino at Starbucks :-)

Businesses are stupid about energy, unless it vanishes completely, as happened in California during the summer of 2001. You would think that energy costs would be an item of interest to companies trying to generate some profits in a down economy. Almost every business, whether industrial or retail, uses energy — if only to cool those fitting rooms in August so Arizonans can imagine buying winter clothes, and heat them in December for New Yorkers buying cruisewear. And energy use can be planned and controlled, if you know what you are doing. Yet energy is the last thing on everybody’s mind, until they are staring directly at an unexpectedly 2x utility bill or participating in rolling blackouts.

Why? Because, as we have learned by watching the Enron hearings, there’s a conspiracy to keep us “in the dark” about energy –how much we are using, where we are using it, and how we can cut down and save money (and natural resources). Very few people feel competent to read a utility bill: most people don’t even know what they are being charged for. Several years ago, a school district in Arizona discovered by accident during a random bill audit that it had been paying the electricity for a golf course facility nearby. Another municipality saved $200,000 just by monitoring the times during which its water treatment plants used electricity.

In a business, you can often lower your costs by changing the rate plan you are on, but most people don’t know that either. Energy management companies have made fortunes by installing expensive control systems and sharing the cost savings with their customers. And all the control systems do is turn the lights and HVAC on and off. For small businesses who can’t afford to invest in the fancy hardware, it might be good to know whether changing out a few light bulbs for fluorescents could add to your bottom line.

In a deregulated environment, people are forced to know more, because they have to make choices about how to buy electricity. Although a few states have deregulated, causing confusion like California’s, others are still in an environment where the utility company has a virtual monopoly on the customer. Either way, the energy consumer is not a smart consumer, especially if he hasn’t got access to a multi-million dollar control system.

I predict that this is about to change. Web-based energy management applications can put power in the hands of the consumer and take it out of the hands of the utility. This isn’t any different from medical information or real estate listings –both of which used to be mysteries controlled by professionals, and are now open books for anyone who wants to be informed.

Some utility companies are already trying to be ahead of the power curve, allowing consumers to log on and see their bills. In Phoenix, Salt River Project is beta testing such a service for consumers. However, in SRP’s offering, there’s no way to see how changes might affect costs: no scenario-building capability.

And why not? Because at the beginning of the shift from supplier power to consumer power, where we are now, this is a tough sell, even to consumers. It��s a tougher sell to businesses. It’s as if no one wants to know, because knowledge might beget work. Or process change. Or retrofits. Or discarding old habits.

We have been associated with KnoWatt (, an energy management information service that provides a web-based “virtual submetering service”; it tells exactly when and how you are using electricity and helps you create scenarios to see what you’d save if, for instance, you shaded the west side of your store.

Every day I go to a west-facing Starbucks store in Phoenix, Arizona that is always too hot or too cold as the manager tries to operate the air conditioning without information. I asked her if I could “give” her the service on a trial basis. She thought it was a good idea, so I called the corporate offices of Starbucks to tell them I had an answer for her problem. That was six months ago. We’ve already been through the summer, and no one even called me back.

I did the same thing with Discount Tire Company, a local business that changes tires in outdoor bays. Not even enough interest to set up a meeting, although cool air leaks out of their facilities like it does out of a flat tire. They are in the middle of building a new corporate headquarters, so they don’t have time to talk about energy.

I wonder what it will take to make people sincerely care about energy conservation. In some states, it will be de-regulation, and prices that are market-based. In states like Arizona, which recently put de-regulation on hold, it will be the next utility rate increase — scheduled for 2004. Hold on to your hat! The utility companies have spent a pretty penny getting ready for de-regulation, and they’ll be passing that on to you and me.

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