A new service that tracks wholesale electricity prices in real time is designed to build consumers’ understanding of how power is generated and how it gets to them.

The Electricity Price Ticker, launched on April 17 by the grid operator PJM Interconnection and the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Institute for Urban Research, provides pricing updates every five minutes for wholesale electricity in the southeastern Pennsylvania territory covered by PECO.

The initiative is believed to be the first of its kind in the world, and is intended to encourage conservation and energy efficiency by increasing awareness of the electricity market, said Eugenie Birch, co-director of the Institute.

The ticker is the centerpiece of an Electricity Price Awareness campaign which aims to increase the public’s understanding of the link between the wholesale price of electricity and their electricity bills by showing that energy-use patterns affect the price of electricity.

Even the Well-Educated “Flunked”

“We need to educate people about the changes that are happening in the world of electricity,” Birch told Breaking Energy. “Our objective is to create more knowledge of demand response.”

Birch said the project emerged at a June 2011 conference held by the Institute, and led to discussions with PJM about how to give electricity prices a real-time gauge, and bring them into line with other common consumer products or services such as gasoline or stock prices.

Research began with Penn students who were quizzed on their knowledge of electricity markets and production in a survey that showed even the educational elite was sorely lacking in its knowledge of what makes the lights go on. “They all flunked,” Birch said.

A visit to the project’s site – www.powerisknowledge.com – reveals the latest wholesale electricity price per megawatt hour for PECO’s customers, and introduces the ticker by explaining what a megawatt hour is. The site is linked to a map of PJM’s territory that highlights its different regions.

Readers are invited to increase their “Energy IQ” by taking a test and reading about how the project’s partners contribute. The other partners are the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., Penn State University’s Grid Smart Training Application and Resource Center, PECO, and two campus units of the University of Pennsylvania.

The site links to its partners’ sites such as that of PJM, where readers can take a primer on electricity markets, or that of the Institute, where users can take an electricity literacy test.

The initiative is being launched at the same time as Pennsylvania regulators are seeking to boost the number of electricity customers who shop for competitive suppliers who have entered the market since deregulation.

To read more about electricity supplier competition, click here for a recent industry group report and here for an article about market deregulation in Pennsylvania.

The ticker will help people understand the connection of their electric bills to market forces in the same way that they understand how the price of gasoline relates to Middle East conflicts or domestic refinery capacity, said Susan Covino, senior consultant for emerging markets for PJM.

“It will enable them to make better decisions about how they use it, such as what appliances to buy,” she told Breaking Energy.

Covino said there has already been interest in the project from universities in New Jersey and Maryland.