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PowerViz: The balance of power tips to the ambient and artistic.


PowerViz’s screen saver, indicating total amount of energy used in house.

The paper “Design of an Appliance Level Eco-Feedback Display for Domestic Electricity Consumption” presents us with “the design, implementation, and field study of PowerViz, an always-on eco-feedback display,intended to increase consumers’ awareness about electricity usage at an appliance level consumption.” PowerViz attempts to balance the pragmatic depiction of energy information with a more artistic intervention, in order to garner and maintain interest in the device. The screen saver (depicted above) presents ambient, at-a-glance information about general energy usage in the home, while the user can drill down by touching the screen in order to get more detailed information on usage history, appliance usage, and appliance history.

Besides providing a good introduction into the world of ecofeedback and “sustainability through design” the paper revisits a small field study of PowerViz which took place in three Danish households, with a total of 11 participants, over a period of seven weeks.


“Pragmatic” screens depict usage history, by room (top), and appliance usage.

At the end of the study, participants suggested that PowerViz gave them a clearer picture as to which appliances were energy hogs and, more globally, that they were more aware of their consumption of energy thanks to the tool. The researchers also learned from participants that the main stated motivation for saving energy was financial. However, this was likely more of a motivator for the people paying the bills than those who were not, namely the children or young adults who made up 45% of participants. One participant even suggested that it was “the sport of it, yes. It’s nerdy, that’s probably what you would call it.” As if we needed more evidence that the world needs more nerds.

Given the duration of the study, participants did acknowledge eventually losing interest in the tool, interacting with it less, and eventually looking in maintaining current levels of consumption, rather than continually trying to decrease it. I would have liked to know approximately when interest in the tool started to wane, as well as if there was a measurable corresponding decrease in interaction with PowerViz. Either way, given a perceived decrease in interaction with the device, the ambient component of PowerViz became the most frequently referenced element – suggesting that this “stand-by” screen is very, very important in the long run.

No information was provided to attest to the efficacy of the tool in leading to an actual change in behavior. Beyond the need to test such a tool on participants who are less aware of their current energy usage (participants were members of households already actively engaged with the issue of household energy use, as they had all previously installed ZenseHome), a number of ideas surface when looking at this tool. For example, how might one engage the users of the home who are not financially motivated? I haven’t seen too many residential ecofeedback tools that target children in particular, and more than a third of all households have children in Canada. Something akin to the sad, sinking polar bear Pasha or the playfulness of the Ghost Hunter could be helpful in aligning different interests and motives in households with children or young adults.

In terms of longer term engagement, I suspect this is the “big question” with ecofeedback in the coming years.

Paay, J., Kjeldskov, J., Skov, M. B., Lund, D., Madsen, T., & Nielsen, M. (2014). Design of an Appliance Level Eco-Feedback Display for Domestic Electricity Consumption.
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