High Tech: Low Carbon Week

I’ve dropped into a couple of events this week that are part of High Tech: Low Carbon Week, organised by Intellect (a trade association for the technology industry). Yesterday it was the turn of the DEHEMS (Digital Environmental Home Energy Management System) project – a European Union funded project that uses technology to improve energy efficiency in the home. DEHEMS have prototyped (currently using an Electrisave and custom router) a real time energy display system that uploads data from a domestic home via the internet every six seconds to a central database. The home-owner can view this data on a dashboard, showing them how their actions relate to their home’s energy consumption. In short, it’s another addition to the world of real time energy displays, and not at nearly as advanced a stage as others in the field, which isn’t at all to say that they won’t contribute anything, but I think they will find the UK a challenging market to compete within over the next few years.

Lucky for them then, that they are conducting research in other countries across Europe and will also produce cross cultural research on behaviour change that I’d love to see.

A couple of other points they made also stuck in my head.

First the recession will mean that fewer people upgrade their appliances, meaning arguments that say standby power consumption is not an issue (standby consumption of televisions has fallen from about 15W on appliances in the 90s to under 1W on the latest appliances according to another event I attended) are less compelling. As they put it, our appliances have a lasting energy efficiency legacy.

Second though their interaction design is clearly better than the simple real time displays you can buy in Maplin, the interaction design design seems pretty bog standard (e.g. the dashboard shows you how your house compares to others in your neighbourhood, but no sign yet of Cialdini’s smiley faces to neutralise rebound effects – though they said they were aware of that research) and viewing it seems currently limited to an iPhone (for the gadget-lovers) or a web interface (so you need to be carrying a laptop round the house while learning about your appliance’s consumption). But the good point is that they have developed an API (a way that third parties can develop custom software that displays the energy data from DEHEM’s database), which I think they plan to open up – allowing anyone with a technical leaning to develop custom ways of displaying and interacting with the data.

Third, after early experiments, DEHEMS are confident that a lasting 20% saving in energy consumption (5% above the upper limit of the current most reliable review of the effect of direct feedback on behaviour change) is easily attainable, and are planning larger experiments across 250 homes in the UK.

I didn’t like to ask whether they were concerned about the competition, but a delegate from the Energy Retail Association had no such qualms and pointed out towards the end of the presentation that Google today launched their own version of a real time display.

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