Watch that Dial! Direct Feedback on Energy Use can Change Behavior

Watch that Dial!

 A funny thing happened when the auto industry embracedthe digital age a few years ago, and installed electronic displays in luxury cars so that drivers were confronted with the engine’s fuel consumption in miles per gallon—in immediate numbers. Many drivers were amazed to see when the rate spiked as a  direct result of certain driving behaviors. The knowledge certainly helped curb  some gas-guzzling driving maneuvers.  

 A California firm has created a “green” industry based on the premise that just knowing how much fuel you’re using is enough incentive to cut down. At Agilewaves, Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, a team of former NASA engineers have applied space program technology to measure utility and water flow in homes and in community or commercial environments. The ultimate goal is to cut down fuel and water consumption—not just to save money for the client, but also decrease the carbon footprint on the earth’s ecology.

 “Our system is very socio-technical in nature,” states Collin Breakstone, the company's vice president of business development. His firm can install a system called Resource Monitor that  measures the ongoing use of energy and resources within a building and  continuously reports this information on a wall screen or web page. “We’re providingreal-time feedback about energy consumption… whether it’s water, gas, electricity or heating oil. A report is created and the results  displayed… as a dollar amount or as [resulting] carbon emissions.”  

 Agilewaves clients range from commercial and institutionalto residential—everything from schools and new housing developments to ice rinks. In a  multi-family building or community, says Breakstone, “we have the ability to track and measure individual units as well as whole  buildings.”  

 The process for the client is rather simple. For a basic installation package,  he explains, “We start with a request for information… It’s a checklist that can be done by phone, for things like number of electrical outlets.” Then a systemof discreet monitors are attached to various points of flow or current, such as  the electrical panel or the gas intake pipe or water meter. Individual monitors  may be attached to faucets, valves or appliances if the client wants to  fine-tune the system for very specific reports. A base package for up to ten  electrical circuits can cost about $4,000 for all the meters, sensors and  software.  

 The result of all this tabulation is a provocative, live-actionreport that exposes exactly where energy is being overused or wasted. “We hope [the clients] use the information to improve energy efficiency. This  knowledge affects people’s behavior in a very positive way,” says Breakstone. “One [residential customer] was able to determine the [cost] difference between a five minute shower and an eight minute shower…” In another example, “A guy threw out his panini-maker” when he saw the electricity it used.  

 “Right now,” Breakstone continues, “We’re working on a 60-unit apartment building and the owner is looking to present  the results of the monitoring system in an open forum among tenants, to share  what people are doing to decrease [energy] consumption. It should be a social  event and a fun challenge… engaging dialogue, like in a friendly competition.”  

 Saving the planet’s resources has to start with cutting downwaste, and a monitoring system is essential. Whether it’s a home, school or commercial building, he notes, “It’s impossible to go on a carbon [emissions] diet if you have no idea what you’re eating.”  

 

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