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Chicago-based website helps consumers save on energy bills


Jeremy Pettet shows how he saves money electricity with his nightly cooking May 17. He used Power2Switch leave ComEd. |

Jeremy Pettet shows how he saves money on electricity with his nightly cooking on May 17. He used Power2Switch to leave ComEd. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2011 1:54AM



Jeremy Pettet is saving 18 percent on his electric bill because he used a Chicago-based website, Power2Switch, to find a ComEd competitor offering cheaper rates.

Pettet, whose electric bill averages $51 a month, would have saved $109.80 off of his total $610 in 2010 power bills had he had the alternative provider the entire year. He switched to the new electricity provider in February of this year.

After he typed his ZIP code into the Power2Switch website homepage (Power2Switch.com), four electric providers popped up. Pettet, who rents his apartment, chose Champion Energy Services, based in Houston. Champion is one of seven companies competing with ComEd in the local market.

Pettet works in marketing so he is especially sensitive about authenticating web transactions. He made sure that no financial or private information was required in order to make the switch.

“Knowing that I wasn’t giving my Social Security number or going onto an unsecured website was important,” he said.

“I chose a renewable [electric] rate because it’s important to me that as much of the power as possible is gathered through wind, solar, biofuels or other renewable sources,” said Pettet, a 29-year-old Lake View resident who learned about Power2Switch through a friend’s Twitter-feed tweet.

“I realized that I could do something to save money that fits with my beliefs and values as far as being environmentally conscious,” he said. “I didn’t know I had a choice.”

Pettet started scrutinizing his spending habits after his brother lost his job in September 2009 and took a year to find a new one. Jeremy also garnered an appreciation for recycling and self-sustainability from growing up on a farm in Logansport, Ind., in a culture of making every penny count.

Paul Ring, editor and founder of online digest EnergyChoiceMatters.com, said Illinois’ two renewable-energy credit (REC) trackers, PJM and MISO, certify the sources and amounts of power on the grid generated from wind, solar and other renewable resources.

“One REC equals one megawatt hour of renewable energy production,” he said.

Power2Switch got its start at the University of Chicago’s Booth School two years ago, after founder Seyi Fabode, 35, grew frustrated that he had no choice of electric provider at his apartment in the West Loop.

The company started by supplying businesses with electricity choices, and added residential service in February.

Power2Switch, which operates out of TechNexus start-up space at 200 S. Wacker Drive, has signed agreements with five energy providers so far, including some that generate their own electricity and others that wholesale it. Roughly 200 people have chosen a new electric provider through Power2Switch, with an average savings of 18 percent, Fabode said. Of the 200 customers, 85 percent are in the Chicago market.

Power2Switch’s goal is to “become the Mint.com of energy,” Fabode said, referring to the free money-management software. “We blog, we send out weekly emails with energy-saving tips and we give customers detailed information about energy use and savings.”

Power2Switch has won recognition from Excelerate Labs and the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, and won membership in the Illinois Smart Grid Cluster.

Power2Switch has also attracted competition, including from another Chicago-based startup, EverBright Energy (EverBrightEnergy.com). EverBright offers a savings calculator so people can compare their ComEd bills with competing offers.

The goal of giving consumers choice and information is to distribute electricity through a “smart” grid that will use digital technology to tell people how much electricity they are consuming. The grid will let “smart” washers, dryers, dishwashers and other appliances figure out when to use energy at the most efficient time so people save money on their electric bills and keep from overtaxing the electric grid.

Alternative energies require government subsidies because they are still costly to generate. But their costs are coming down as more companies compete in the industry, and as production grows more efficient.

Retailers and other organizations are starting to promote standards, seals of approval and online verification systems that make alternative energies more consumer-friendly. Take these examples:

† This week, a panel led by Wal-Mart, Lego and Ikea acknowledged wind power’s significance by announcing standards by which a product can be certified as “Wind-Made.” The products will bear a logo just as recycled, organic and fair-trade products do now.

† Wind power capacity totaling 41 gigawatts provides 2.3 percent of the nation’s electricity. That’s a 15 percent increase from 2010, and the wind-power industry is aiming for wind to provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. Illinois got 1.5 percent of its energy from wind generators, compared with 46.4 percent from coal in 2009, the latest data available.

† Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s has invested in Sungevity, a pioneer in making Web-based cost estimates for installed residential roof-top solar systems using satellite imagery and aerial photography. Lowe’s will sell Sungevity’s services in select stores, starting in California, allowing homeowners to get solar-system estimates and sign contracts online, and set up installation through subcontractors. Solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity use, and provided a similarly small amount of power for Illinois.

† The Illinois Institute of Technology has partnered with the not-for-profit Galvin Electricity Initiative to act as a testing ground for the future of electricity conservation, turning the campus into a “Perfect Power” smart-grid microsite. The program is a model for a vision funded by Robert Galvin, the son of Motorola’s founder, for small electrical grids to serve local communities, making electrical distribution and pricing more competitive. The Galvin Electricity Initiative this spring launched the “Perfect Power Seal of Approval,” modeled after the “green” LEED building certification, to evaluate and recognize the nation’s top-performing smart micro-grid projects in delivering electricity. The program recognizes grid projects that give customers affordable, reliable and efficient power and the ability to manage their electrical use.



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