Austin community participates in energy-saving study


Several folks in Austin are now part of this study, so we went to see how it may help people save money in the future.

In an idyllic neighborhood in the middle of Austin, Grant Fisher is playing the perfect guinea pig.

"I'm passionate about the research they're doing. I think it's going to have a lot of long-lasting implications," he said.

Fisher is part of what's called the Pecan Street Project. It's an effort, that in part, studies how people use energy.

"Right now, we're producing 1.24 kilowatts, right now," Fisher said.

As part of the study, Fisher put large solar panels on the roof of his house.

"We actually don't have an electric bill. Nine months out of the year, we actually sell power back to Austin Energy," Fisher said.

Fisher, though, is not the only guinea pig on his street or his neighborhood. An incredible one in three homes here have solar panels and are part of the Pecan Street Project.

"The people in our research trials, like this one, the best and another one that we're going with that are smaller," said Brewster McCracken, who runs Pecan Street.

McCracken says their research helps companies figure out the best way to market and sell emerging technology, most of which has an energy-related component.

"We're working with these companies and real customers to find out what it is that people like enough that they'll go spend their own dollars buying," McCracken said.

To that end, Pecan Street gave homeowners an average of $2,500 towards the purchase of their solar panels, which can cost up to $25,000 but with rebates can pay for themselves in as little as five years. They also give up to $7,500 to purchase electric cars.

But it's more than about money. To be successful, Pecan Street picked a specific trial community -- Mueller, which is on the site of the old Austin airport. It's a place designed to encourage green living with large parks and sidewalks and nearby shopping.

"All in all, it's great for the world. It's an environmental impact, but it's also from a sense of community, a sense of health and sustainability, it's a smart thing," said.

Smart enough that Pecan Street knows when and how much electricity Fisher is creating and using. He's already adjusted his habits.

"Honestly, my A/C is only 40 percent of my bill and so everything else was 60 percent. It wasn't any one particular thing. It was just a lot of little things," Fisher said.

They're little things that will someday help all of us conserve or better use energy in our homes -- long after Fisher's guinea pig days are over.

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