How can you prepare for extreme weather and power outages to keep your utility bill under control? This Texan didn’t let the winter blackouts set him back.
We recently spoke to John F., a Sense user in North Dallas, Texas who used Sense home energy data during the Texas power outages to prepare for increased demand due to the unusually cold weather, manage his consumption during price spikes and troubleshoot a potentially high monthly bill after he received a notification that he had consumed over $400 of electricity on a single day.
John is an IT professional, living at home with his two cats. He originally purchased Sense to track how much energy his devices use, especially the charger for his Chevy Bolt and his networking equipment. He uses the Sense integration with Home Assistant for automation and has some UPS batteries to power his network equipment. Like many Texas homeowners that recently experienced extremely high bills, John was on a variable-rate plan where the price of his electricity was dependent on the market value from his energy provider.
When John heard that a winter storm could lead to blackouts in the North Dallas area, he did the things everyone does before a storm: he took a trip to the grocery store for food, checked on emergency supplies like batteries and flashlights, and made sure he had a good water supply on hand. But because he had experienced a previous outage in August 2019, he pre-loaded his debit account by $300, figuring that there would be extra charges as the price of electricity rose.
As the grid supply started to decrease on Wednesday, February 10th, John began to closely monitor his electricity rate. When John checked his energy provider’s app on Saturday, he noticed a 348% jump in his daily energy costs with the price of electricity increasing from an average of $0.37 per kWh on Thursday to $1.84 per kWh on Saturday.
Concerned about the $111.81 bill on Saturday, John checked his usage in Sense to make sure the utility readings matched what Sense reported from Thursday through Saturday. He was able to find his day-to-day electricity usage by navigating to Trends > Usage in the Sense app and confirmed that his estimated consumption from his energy provider was accurate.
Next, John utilized the Time of Use feature in the Sense app to figure out how much it would cost going forward to run appliances like his EV charger and network equipment based on the average variable pricing rates reported by ERCOT. He used this process to estimate that his electricity rate was trending to 128.5 times higher than his typical average cost per kWh.
With this insight, John calculated that if he continued to use his PC and appliances as usual, his bill for February could exceed $2400. He made the decision to minimize his usage in every way he could until electricity rates came back down to normal.
“Had I not had the Sense unit to get real-time usage, there is a good chance I would have kept running my PC and at-home networking set-up. My biggest consumer is my network stack that runs my home lab, at about 1.2 kWh.” John added, “This would have run up about $1200 in charges, that’s before running my heat which would have brought the total around ~$2065, and then delivery charges [from the energy provider] which varies month to month.” John also refrained from charging his electric vehicle on Saturday due to the increased price of electricity.
Early Monday morning, John experienced the first of the rolling blackouts in his area when he awoke to an alarm from the UPS equipment that powers his network, notifying him that his power was out. With some quick thinking, John opened the Sense app and changed his default Wi-Fi network to his mobile hotspot, ensuring continuous data without relying on his home wi-fi connection. John also knew Sense has a buffer that retains six hours of data while it’s offline.
With intermittent power throughout the day Monday, John received a notification about his electricity charges for Sunday, February 14. “I had added $300 credit into my account thinking that it would cover any additional costs for the day, and I noticed my account had been billed for the full credit and additional charges.”
He went to his energy provider’s app and saw a single-day cost Sunday of $423.65, a surprising bill since he had kept his energy use to a strict minimum that day. Even stranger, his consumption was 159 kWh – almost triple his average daily usage in spite of his careful conservation. And the price had jumped again, this time to $2.67.
Now John knew there was an issue with his recorded charges from his energy provider. Since John had not experienced any power outages until early Monday morning, Sense was connected to the internet all day Sunday and recorded his usage at 34.5 kWh. This was consistent with expected consumption for the day but 125 kWh lower than he was being billed for.
John began tweeting about the surplus charges and inconsistencies in his reported usage. Once John’s energy provider saw his tweets mentioning the high charges, their Customer Support team was able to look at his account and confirm something was wrong. John’s screenshots of Sense data helped him negotiate his charges for Sunday, February 14th.
””My biggest concern was getting Sunday’s data corrected, which equated to a ~$333 error,” said John.
For several days, starting Monday, his energy provider didn’t show daily consumption charges for his account online, so John continued to monitor his usage with Sense. At the end of the month, he got a bill for $837 from his energy provider. John believes that without Sense, his electrical bill for February could easily have been three times higher.
During our conversation, John mentioned how important his Sense data was throughout the entire process. “No one knows how to read their meter, but you need to have visibility into your electricity usage to feel confident the bill is right,” John said. “Without this data there would be no way to hold anyone accountable.”
John has switched to a fixed-rate electricity plan from another energy provider in the area. Says John, “Had I not utilized conservation to the extreme, and gone on blissfully unaware, I would have a ~$2400 bill.”