Posts Tagged 'energy consumption'

Example #2 – Real Time Energy Displays

Energy consumption in the home is invisible, which becomes a social problem when it accounts for 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Part of the problem is that it takes a certain type of person to find beauty in a traditional electricity meter, and they are usually hidden away; installed inside cupboards or above eye level and never looked at.

Enter a broad range of persuasive products; some simple, some sleek, some designer and some made by the so-called iPod of Cleantech, that all try to reduce consumption by making energy visible. The majority of these products rely on a current sensor that clips around the main electricity inlet to a house (although this press release suggests that some may be more sophisticated) and wirelessly transmits the energy data to a portable and hopefully beautiful object that sits on your coffee table and constantly displays it.

How do these real time energy displays (as they have become known) attempt to persuade people to reduce energy consumption? All of them employ self-monitoring (in a similar way to Nike+iPod) to help people become more attuned to how much each of their appliances are consuming and are enabled to make intelligent decisions. Mention of “reward points” suggests some of them employ aspects of tunnelling, like an energy coach might. The more advanced real time energy displays have also seen the potential of the internet, and use (or are planning to use) social networking to create communities around energy consumption, adding surveillance to the list of persuasive techniques. Lastly, real time energy displays function as simulated cause and effect scenarios, allowing people to turn on and off appliances, and see from the display how much CO2 would be emitted each year if they continued to consume energy at such a rate (it is a personal disappointment that none of them are yet hooked up to a climate change model that shows how this would correspond to sea level rise or ecosystem shift… if anyone knows of a climate change model with an API – do let me know).

Real time energy displays are one of the highest profile of products that could be considered persuasive technology, after they had a brief brush with environmental policy in the government’s draft energy bill of 2007, which required energy suppliers to provide such displays to those customers that requested them (as a precursor to a roll-out of smart meters, which are a slightly different kettle of fish). The government engaged suppliers, consumers and OFGEM in consultation and carried out a cost benefit analysis and impact assessment which concluded that given the evidence for such products, the policy would not be cost effective. The requirement was dropped from the bill, illustrating the requirement for robust and quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of such persuasive technology, and also the difficulty of comparing the effectiveness of different displays when effectiveness hangs on the interaction design (and the persuasive power).

So what evidence is there? Studies are thin on the ground and spread over many years (dating back to the oil crisis of the 70s) when interaction design was less advanced, but the most credible review of the literature suggests savings of 5-15% can be obtained by giving people direct feedback of energy consumption. Further tests of real time displays are currently under way (some in conjunction with smart-meter trials) in 8,500 households in the UK and more across the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the savings may be even higher; approaching 40%.

However the real time energy display story ends, they may prove to be a landmark case for persuasive technology and behaviour change.

By the way, in addition to making energy visible via real time energy displays, there are also an abundance of conceptual products from the Interactive Institute that are well worth a look.


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