The optimal display can curb energy use
Sometime’s the simplest way of presenting information is the best. Wired magazine tells of Southern California Edison’s efforts to get customers to cut back on electricity usage on hot days. Edison sent out emails, text messages, automated phone calls – and then tried a pilot program where customers received a glowing orb that was a peaceful green when the grid was working at a lower capacity and prices were cheaper, but changed to red during peak hours when prices were highest. Customers with the orb reduced their electricity consumption by 40% compared to orb-less customers.
The orb’s manufacturer, Ambient Devices, sells the orbs with a default set to monitor the financial markets through a proprietary wireless network that it claims covers 90% of the US population. SC Edison’s cleverness was to create its own channel with grid capacity information that would make energy usage visible at a glance.
Some readers may be able to remember years ago when the auto industry began to dumb-down dashboard indicators to the level that they were go/nogo lights: When your car had already overheated to the point of near-disaster, the red light came on. These lights were called, appropriately, idiot lights. SC Edison’s application of Ambient Orbs may be closer to a happy medium for monitoring power usage , giving enough, but not too much, information.
In a related post, New Daedalus wonders if Toyota’s Prius engineers should consider a less information-intensive display for the Prius dashboard, which currently shows an animated picture of the power train’s gasoline vs. battery energy source to help the driver modify his or her driving habits to get the maximum MPG for the car. Maybe a gently glowing orb can convey the same information more quickly and simply.