According to the New York Times, a new Pacific Northwest National Laboratory study found if households have digital tools to set temperature and cost preferences, peak loads on utility grids could be reduced by up to 15 percent per year. Over a 20-year period, this practice could save $70 billion in spending for power plants and infrastructure and prevent the need to build the equivalent of 30 large coal-fired plants.

For the study, researchers outfitted 112 homes with digital thermostats and computer controllers on water heaters and clothes dryers, which were connected to the Internet. Homeowners could then visit a Web site where they could set their ideal temperature, how far above and below that ideal the temperature could vary and their level of tolerance for fluctuating electricity prices. The live marketplace for the project used software and analytics designed by IBM Research.

Every five minutes, households and local utilities were buying and selling electricity, with prices constantly fluctuating by minute amounts every time demand on the grid changed.

IBM Watson Research Center senior researcher Ron Ambrosio said the transaction that took place was essentially the house’s thermostat and water heater acting as day-traders for electricity, waiting for the right price. The households saved an average of 10 percent on their monthly utilities.

Rick Nicholson of IDC, a global adviser for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets, said the project was a great proof of concept, but it is unlikely consumers will see such technology in their homes any time soon.

—Information Inc.