Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You'd work differently if you paid the bills at work...

With the recent surge in interest of household energy monitors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see their development and transition in to user-centered building automation monitoring devices/displays.*

Hydro One, Canada’s largest power utility, recently completed a 500-home pilot project in which homeowners in five different Ontario cities were given indoor displays that allow them to track their electricity consumption in real time (they used technology from Blue Line Innovations). The study, the largest ever conducted in Canada, found an average 7 to 10 per cent reduction in electricity use over the course of a year, when compared to the same months and seasons in the previous year. Their findings support similar conclusions, including a similar study out of Oxford University.

I think it would be interesting to work in a building where the power usage is publicly monitored. It wouldn’t even need to be a digital display, but could instead incorporate colors/ambient lighting in to a lobby or entrance. If a building is running at peak energy and output on any given day, the colors shift to reflect the gross output (while I admit that it would be slightly incongruous to install a large electricity-draining light feature to monitor power usage, that’s where the designers would do their design magic, installing the feature with some technobabble something-or-other that doesn’t drain from the existing grid).
Basically, I know I’d be more inclined to turn off a switch or think twice before I plug in my peripherals during peak energy hours. And while we all should be so inclined to do so on a daily basis, reminders don’t hurt.

Here’s some ambient smart monitors for the home from Springwise to show you what I’m talking about:

Wattson, first of all, is a sleek, aesthetically pleasing device that shows homeowners through both numbers and colors how much energy they are using in their home. Consumers begin by attaching to their electricity meter or fuse box a transmitter device, which can measure both single and 3-phase systems. That, in turn, beams information directly to the freestanding Wattson device elsewhere in the house, where it instantly displays current usage. Wattson's LED display can represent energy use in euros, dollars, yen or pounds, while its pulsing, colored light also reflects the amount of electricity being used, ranging from cool blue for small amounts to red for high energy consumption. The wireless Wattson display is portable, and when appliances are switched on or off, it indicates how much energy they use. Homeowners can store up to 4 weeks of energy-use history on the device and download it for analysis on software that comes included; a forthcoming community feature will let Wattson owners compare their usage. Wattson was listed in Stuff Magazine's "Cool List" of the top 10 gadgets of 2007. It is priced at GBP 149.50 from UK-based DIY KYOTO.

Home Joule, meanwhile, resembles a nightlight and plugs into any outlet in a home. The device displays not just energy usage, broadcast wirelessly by the consumer's energy meter, but also the real-time cost of energy, which comes wirelessly from the energy company. The colour of light emitted by the device represents the costs of the moment, with yellow and red light indicating expensive energy costs, while green means energy is cheaper. The idea is that consumers can then modify their consumption accordingly, switching off discretionary appliances at peak times of the day. The Home Joule is from Ambient Devices and is currently available only to customers of Consumer Powerline's demand-response program.

Finally, though not truly an energy monitor, we can't resist mentioning
Ambient's beautiful Energy Orb, which also emits different colours of light to represent pricing information. This time, however, the device emitting the light is an egg-shaped orb that plugs into an outlet. The Energy Orb has been adopted by Pacific Gas & Electric and other US energy companies, and is priced at USD 149.99.

With energy prices heading nowhere but up, so, too, will demand for devices like these. One to get in on early, especially outside the US!


*Keep in mind that I have zero planning/architectural experience, but what can I say? It’s fun to think out loud and predict grandiose changes in trends when working from the industry sidelines. I’m privy to my stupid ideas/thoughts/comments/all-office emails and nobody gets hurt.