In the paper “Eco-Feedback on the Go: Motivating Energy Awareness,” the authors present EnergyLife, a multifaceted too that shares information about household electricity consumption in a variety of fashions. In addition to providing seemingly straightforward information on energy use, EnergyLife also incorporates a gaming environment in order to reward the user as they achieve certain goals related to energy conservation. More than just a mobile application, this project also included two physical interventions to provide ambient feedback within the home.
In order to be able to track not only cumulative household energy consumption, but also the usage associated with different appliances in the home, EnergyLife is layered atop a framework called BeAware, which takes sensor data from dedicated on the fuse box in the home as well as from wireless sensors located in the appliance plugs. Eight appliances were monitored.
The researchers were concerned about providing too much or overly complex information to the user, and therefore decided to develop a tool that would allow the user to drill down to increasingly specific information, as needed. The ultimate goal was to deliver clear, tailored instructions in terms of how a specific household member might achieve a precise goal. Moreover, rather than using financial savings as a tool to motivate participants (Junior might not really care about energy billing), researchers opted instead to make use of historical data in order to deliver comparative feedback to the user.
In addition to clear and accessible information, the researchers looked to engage the users and support social interaction by structuring the tool as a game. This gamification of eco-feedback allowed “users” to become “players” who are faced with challenges and opportunities to learn at various “levels” of interaction, thus supporting competition and knowledge sharing between household members. Gaming for learning is becoming a more common tactic for eco-feedback tools (see: EcoIsland, GreenSweeper, Power Agent, Bottle Bank Arcade).
This research paper did not only include the mobile interface, but also two physical interventions to provide ambient feedback to the household. The light ambient interface (LAIT) controls fixed household lights, such that when the household is consuming target amounts or lower, the lamp will turn on as it usually does. However, if the household is consuming more than the target amount, the light will only slowly brighten to full illumination. This type of interface might benefit household members that are not all constantly on their smart phones. However, it would be in using the mobile application that one would be able to determine the source of the energy use, so the two elements are tied together to a certain extent.
The second physical intervention is called the “Watt-lite Twist,” a seemingly large flashlight that projects household electricity consumption as a pie chart during a specified number of kilowatt-hours. The purpose of this tool is to help the user conceptualize what is meant by a kilowatt-hour, other than a measure used to bill for energy use.
Researchers were able to demonstrate a 5% average decrease in energy use while using the tools for 3 months in 13 households. These are only preliminary results. Given the variety of the tools being used (e.g. the mobile application, LAIT and the Watt-Lite Twist), it would be impossible to know what, if anything specific, contributed to this decrease during the testing period. Without a well constructed and controlled study, it would difficult to know if anyone of these three distinct tools would be more or less effective when combined or in isolation.