Energy savings could certainly use a little sex appeal. Enter the fine folks who helped develop the now ubiquitous iPod and iPhone – products that revolutionized the smart phone market and virtually insured that most North Americans carry a tiny computational device in their pocket or purse.
It was only a matter of time before the minds of Silicone Valley decided to add a little geek know-how and market wizardry to smart homes. Unimpressed with the programmable thermostats available while designing a new energy efficient home, former Apple exec Tony Fadell decided to develop his own. It so happens, that thermostats aren’t a bad business to explore – he expects this to be a booming business. And so now we have Nest, the learning thermostat.
MIT’s technology review has a nice article out on Nest. In it we learn that Nest owners have saved 225 million kilowatt-hours of energy in the time the product has been on the market, saving of approximately $29 million. This is excellent, of course. However, it remains to be seen if Nest’s ability to learn how to conservation energy comes at the expense, or rather compliments the learning on energy savings done by the home owner. The expression in building “smart building, dumb people” comes from the frequent lack of engagement or control the end user has in “smart” spaces. Once removed from their Nest enabled home, are owner more or less likely to be conscious of their ability to conserve energy in other contexts?
The interactive aspect of the device as well as it’s simple and aesthetically pleasing interface, make this tool promising in terms of behavior-based, rather than purely technologically driven change (concurrently doing both is really bright). It’s especially interesting that users have the ability to control the device at a distance, perhaps allowing end users to become more sensitive to their active participation in the conservation of energy, rather than passively letting the device to all the heavy lifting. Moreover, the device incorporates some timely feedback in the form of a small leaf icon.
The Leaf is described as a game whereby the user is rewarded for behavior that leads to energy savings. Interactions with Nest, either with the physical device or through the mobile application, which lead to energy savings in relation to baseline use will result in the display of the leaf icon. You can even earn a leaf for turning the device off. Moreover, earning leafs (yes, à la Maple Leafs) becomes more difficult overtime, as you and Nest learn to conserve energy – a good challenge can be super motivating. All of your leaf acquisitions appear in your energy history and energy reports, allowing you to track the number of leafs you earn over time, while chanting “Go Leafs!”
I’m excited to learn that the company has other energy savings devices in the works – this is a promising design-savvy advance for a pretty conservative industry.