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Another Nudge

Posted on Feb 16 2009 by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

If you haven’t read my earlier post Nudging Us Towards an Efficient Future, I recommend doing that first, as this post is a follow up.

I just read another New York Times article about the new 2010 Honda Insight hybrid sedan. Incidentally, it looks so much like the Prius, it’s a little scary. In any case, the dashboard on this car has some very interesting features that fall right into the “nudge” category of behavior modification. The speedometer background color changes from blue to green as driving becomes “more environmentally responsible” and there is an “eco score” readout that if you win displays a digital trophy surrounded by a wreath. I suppose this might irritate some people, but, if the theory of nudging holds constant, they will be very successful in helping drivers improve their mileage. The readouts in this car are an interesting evolution from those in the Prius – they have taken the raw data (average and maximum MPG, for example), and distilled it down to a score and a color to let you know how you are doing. This makes a lot of sense, as most people prefer the big picture as opposed to lots of detail that they need to interpret.

Homes Like Hybrid Cars
I am impressed that the energy management in cars is now completely integrated and user friendly, although this makes sense, as cars are typically very well designed, fully integrated systems designed for maximum efficiency. Most homes are still a long way from being the high performance fully integrated products that they someday should be. When they are, they will likely have easy to operate and understand energy management systems built right in. Until then, we have to deal with existing add on products to get the information we need to monitor energy use and nudge us to change our habits. The Energy Detective, the electricity monitor I mentioned before, is one of those add on products that provides a digital read out of instantaneous as well as cumulative power use in a house. This raw data is useful, but it isn’t as effective in changing behavior as something like the Energy Orb. Southern California Edison hooked up these glowing balls to their customer’s meters, causing them to glow green when energy use was low and red when it was high. They reported up to 40% energy savings for customers with the orb. So it seems to be clear that “nudging” works to change behavior.

Luxury Nudging with Agilewaves
So TED and the Orb give us basic info on our electricity usage, but what about the rest of the house? We use water and gas as well, and they are not as simple to monitor. This brings us to more sophisticated systems such as Agilewaves, a fully featured, web based monitoring system. This system hooks up to everything in your house, including solar panels, geothermal system, and all regular utilities to provide real time tracking of all energy use. Products like this are really amazing in their capabilities, but I am concerned that the cost puts them out of reach for the average homeowner, and it is getting this information to every homeowner that will help make, cumulatively, a significant impact on our energy use. High end devices like Agilewaves are simply too expensive to be more than a luxury product, at least right now. I do, however, look forward to seeing the descendants of this product being very valuable as they become mass market products and provide every one of us with tools to nudge us to better behavior in our homes.


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