By WorldChanging Guest Blogger Coco Krumme:
Ambient Devices, an MIT Media Lab spin-off, has released a new product that aims to have consumers shift electricity usage from peak to off-peak times. Like other Ambient tools (which include an umbrella that lights up if the forecast calls for rain, and a real-time stock market tracker), the EnergyJoule exemplifies parsimonious design: it plugs discretely into any outlet; its' shape is unassuming and its information content manageable. The nightlight face glows red when energy demand is high, yellow when demand is moderate, and green when it's low. A bar on the right side of the screen displays your home's real-time usage, and additional icons show weather and temperature.
The EnergyJoule is currently being tested by users in New York City, and should be available to a larger market by next year. The device tracks demand on the local grid in real time, allowing consumers to cut back on discretionary usage during peak times. This has real environmental impacts: a reduced load during peak hours shifts generation away from dirtier "last resort" plants. At the household level, the device can incite energy savings while encouraging individuals to become more attuned to (and adjust their habits in accordance with) the "here and now" of energy production and consumption.
While the simplicity of the Joule is appealing, a few additional features may be worthwhile. Usage data only makes sense if put in context: how big is your house? How much have you used historically? How does your usage compare to that of your neighbors? Clear comparisons could induce bigger savings.
Also, while the device is good at letting you know when to hold off on running the drier or dishwasher, a lot of home energy usage isn't as obviously "discretionary." Consumers will need additional signals and incentives to crank down the air conditioning even when the Joule reads "green," to unplug rarely used appliances, or to invest in a more efficient washing machine. A good complement to the device would be a "smart" energy tracker. And what about an analysis of your estimated long-term savings from buying new appliances, based on current usage, efficiency, and projected future supply?
But the simplicity of the Joule has advantages beyond aesthetic appeal. As countless psychology studies have shown, people pay more attention to what they use or spend when the savings are tangible. The EnergyJoule transforms your static, once-monthly, black-and-white electricity bill into something dynamic, colorful, and live.