A major obstacle to reducing our energy consumption continues to be our general unawareness of just how much we are using. Most people have no idea exactly how much a shorter shower or a lowered thermostat can effect the bottom line.
The Prius’s live dashboard is the poster system for the benefits of generative feedback. The charts and graphs showing real-time fuel use have made the Toyota model a real-life video game for drivers, who change their driving to avoid hills and coast to red lights instead of slamming on the breaks to hit new record-high fuel efficiency.
Because the built environment accounts for nearly 40 percent of energy use and carbon emissions released in the US, homes and offices need generative feedback systems to encourage eco-conscious consumption as well, said Peter Sharer, CEO of home resource monitor company AgileWave, during a panel at West Coast Green, a green innovations conference held Sept. 25-27 in San Jose, California. Our current tools—gas meters that no one reads and gas bills that provide too little information too late—are out of date for our current climate crisis, he said.
Research shows that having live feedback about energy consumption available makes a difference. A literature review published by the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute in 2006 found that users change their behavior in order to lower their energy use up to 15 percent when provided with real-time data. At an AgileWaves-equipped home in Tiburon, California, the resident reduced his energy use by 50 percent in the first month, Sharer said.
Natural Logic, a sustainability consulting company whose CEO Gil Friend also spoke at the conference, has developed its own generative feedback systems, but focused on a larger scale: Business Metabolics is designed for companies, Open Eco is a way for campuses to share data and work together to lower energy consumption, and the company has proposed a plan for a regional sustainability dashboard in response to the Buckminster Fuller Challenge.
The bottom line is this, Sharer said: “We can’t afford to be blind in our buildings.”