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Pecan Street Inc., a nonprofit research and development organization headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin, has announced that it is launching a side-by-side research trial of the comparative impact and benefits of new pricing models and other tools for shifting electricity use away from periods where the electric grid is strained.

For the last two years, more than 500 homes in Austin have been participating in Pecan Street’s research of how people use electricity on a minute-to-minute basis, as well as the impacts of emerging consumer products, such as home energy monitoring systems, green building, electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels and in-home energy storage.

Now, through support from and collaboration with the Center for Commercialization of Electric Technologies (CCET), researchers from Pecan Street and Frontier Associates and volunteer homeowners will be working together on a new trial. To be conducted from this month through October 2014, the trial focuses on the comparative effectiveness of time-of-use electric rates, default settings and text message appeals during critical grid conditions.

“When it comes to variable pricing, the financial benefit has to be as real as possible,” says Pecan Street data group director Grant Fisher, who is managing the field trial. “We can’t just tell people they would have saved money. They need real-time feedback that quantifies their financial savings.”

Pecan Street and CCET will oversee and co-manage the research, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Energy smart grid demonstration program under a cooperative agreement with CCET.

During the study, participants will be presented with different test configurations:

- One group of residents will test a time-of-use electric rate that includes a discounted electric rate during periods of peak wind generation and a higher electric rate during summer afternoons when the electric grid in Texas is experiencing demand-driven strains.

- A second group of residents will receive a free programmable thermostat that comes with a default setting optimized for energy conservation. Residents will be free to change the thermostat setting away from its default setting without any restrictions.

- A third group of residents will receive a text message appeal to reduce electricity use during periods when the electric grid in Texas is experiencing demand-driven strains. Researchers will evaluate the comparative effectiveness not just of message content, but also of when the message is sent.

The study will include a control group that does not receive any additional services or directed information.

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