Would You Broadcast Your Energy Usage?

from the one-way-to-keep-things-in-check dept

Clive Thompson, over at Wired, has an article about how a power company used those silly ambient “orb” devices that were supposed to quietly alert you when your stocks were losing money or the weather was turning bad, to alert people to when they should cut back on their electricity usage. Apparently, it worked wonders. While sending emails and text messages had no real impact, the glowing orb actually made people cut back on their electricity usage when necessary. Of course, from the article it’s not entirely clear why people did so, though you could imagine that a glowing red orb would have a sort of… creepy “someone’s watching you” feel. Perhaps that’s what leads to Thompson’s follow-on suggestion that a good way to get people to conserve energy would be to have them “broadcast” their energy usage on something like Facebook. The idea is that we’re mostly blind to how much energy we use, but if it’s suddenly made visible to us, it makes us a lot more concerned — and if it’s made visible to all our friends, then we have a peer pressure element as well. Of course, for some of us, our electricity usage is made quite visible once a month when the bill from the power company shows up…

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Comments on “Would You Broadcast Your Energy Usage?”

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IanK says:

I think that would work.

I really would. People enjoy group participation of this sort. Of course, people may stop caring after awhile, but some people would try to decrease their energy consumption for the long term because they learn to cope without, and learn to make adjustments to achieve this easily without having to sacrifice a lot.

Michael Kohne says:

Once a Month feedback...

The monthly bill isn’t quick enough feedback for the human mind to really pay it that much attention. When you see the bill you go ‘oh no, I have to use less electric’, but then you pay it, and then it’s out of site, out of mind for another 30 days.

Any kind of continuous reminder of how much electic you are using would be very helpful in getting people to cut back.

Personally, I’d love to have an EASY, real-time way to see what my electric meter says – any one know of a good way to get that data? I’ve got a newer ‘remotely readable’ meter, is there a way for me to read that? I could put the reader in the kitchen where it’s hassling me all the time…

Haywood says:

Re: Re: Once a Month feedback...

Don’t give them any ideas. That may be fine for you, but my cows and plants are going to want water pumped no matter how big the bill. My seedlings are going to want some light. While it might be fine to encourage residential customers to cut back, the reason milk is heading for $5 a gallon is largely due to the environmental Nazis.
What really rakes my buns is the attitude they have of telling land owners how to run their operations. If they are that intent on controlling how land and resources are managed, they should buy lots of land and manage it how they see fit. But no, they whine to legislators to put more burdens on the already over burdened. (Steps down from soapbox)

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: Re: Once a Month feedback...

Frankly I get the feeling that if this did take off and led to people lowering their power consumption in a serious way the power companies would just add some “new fees and charges” that would magically equal almost to the penny what the savings would be.

If that didn’t work they would sue customers for some mannaer of copyright infringement in order to recover from irreparable damages. Yeah I know suing energy customers doesn’t make sense but most lawsuits these days don’t make sense.

Basically I think it is a great idea to try to lower consumption but consumption goes down then the energy industry will have to find a new way to fleece money ouf of us.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: I+1 B+1 M+1

That damned enter key always gets me into trouble.

As I was going to say, if the Orb turned red and talked with the voice of HAL, it would be far more effective. The day I go to flip on the TV and I get an “I’m sorry, I can’t do that, Joe.” is the day I *really* pay attention to my energy usage. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:


I’m going to use however much energy I need or want to. I pay for the god damned energy. What’s next, an ambient orb to suggest to me that I should buy fewer magazines or shoes?

Personally, I’d love for everyone to shut the hell up about how much energy I or anyone else uses. When you pay my electric bill for me you can complain. Until then, shut the fuck up.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Mr.

Clearly, Mr. Why, you have no friends in California, or any other area where the power plants have difficulty keeping up with demand, nor do you have a firm grasp on the concept of a non-renewble resource.

Though, closer to the point, the orbs would have to be purchased, which would mean, to me, that they are being used by people who *want* to lower their energy usage– so you don’t have to worry about the big, bad orb turning and angry shade of red at you for leaving your lights on when you’re gone and the AC running with the windows open as you sit next to an open refrigerator for hours to keep cool. 🙂

Anonymous Coward's Arch Nemesis says:

Re: Re:

The problem with that attitude is that by simply paying your bill you aren’t removing the toxins from the atmosphere that were generated to get you that electricity. Sure, you CAN use as much as you want, but if everyone had that attitude how long would the supply really last? So unless you have another planet free of polution you can magically transport yourself to in the event that this one goes to hell, I suggest you get with the times and pitch in on conserving what we’ve got so that hopefully we can enjoy it for another day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What do you mean “Why?” Are you seriously that oblivious the world around you? Open your damn eyes dude. Watch patterns around you instead of just blindly strolling through life. You definitely have a bad case of ‘consumeritis’.

Remember sheeple, if you Conform, Obey and Consume, jesus clause will grant you access to heaven.

Sean L says:


I would do it, I live in a house with three other roommates, and I’ve always wanted to meter my devices, but the meters cost too much to justify me “proving I use less electricity than all of you…” so I just let it go…

But something like this would be really cool. Especially among my friends, since we’re all environmentalist freaks and have facebook.. now we can really jab at each other 😉

Ben (profile) says:

Load pricing

My understanding has been that the new electricity meters the power companies have been trying to push out would permit demand pricing — when the demand is high (or, more specifically, at times when demand is traditionally high) the price is increased. An orb device, which monitors the regional load (not your house load), would make an even better metric as well as giving feedback to the consumer: the orb is red, so don’t run the dryer now.

However, until the power companies institute that level of pricing (rather than just by time) it is just a novelty device (granted one that I wouldn’t mind having…)

Jon says:

Other applications

If you take the concept out of the energy market it has great potential. I run a Service Desk and I see great potential to use the orb as a metric monitor. Sit an orb on each agents desk and have its color adjust based on their metrics. This provides instant (or nearly) feedback to the agent on their performance and provides a means of peer pressure at a glance. “Bob, why don’t you do some work. You are flashing red.” Since you control the data and only tell the orb what color to change to, you have the ability adjust the weight as agents get used to the level of effort required to keep the orb green. Kind of like gradual performance tuning.

Boost says:

Magical device to help monitor energy usage in rea

I think they may have recently invented this thing that goes on the side of your house where the power comes in off the line. They even call it a ‘meter’. And if you’re really interested in finding out how much energy you are using you can just walk out and look at it. The meter is even clearly marked in this new system called decimal. It’s amazing technology…really!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Deregulated Economics

In my area electric rates are “deregulated” and market driven. This means that people can be charged what the market will bear for electricity. So, if the average household consumer is willing to pay $X/month for electricity then the electric company is going to try to charge that amount. Why should they charge less? In fact, their legal responsibility to their investors makes it illegal for them to “give the store away” by charging less than the market will bear. Therefore, if usage goes down they will just raise their rates to bring the monthly bills back up to what the market will bear so monthly bills will ultimately remain unchanged. What will change however is the electric company’s monthly cost of production which goes down with less usage. This is why electric companies are keen on reducing usage. So what those orbs really turn out to be are investor profit indicators, just as they were originally intended!

So in the long run, lowering consumption will not lower monthly consumer bills but rather will increase electric company profits and the return to their investors. Don’t expect them to publicly admit to this though because doing so could cause a public backlash and government intervention which could harm profits. So they are legally required to lie about it as well.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:

Re: Deregulated Economics

I agree with you. I work for a utility and everyone talks about cutting demand, mainly at peak loading periods. We have a kite, not an orb (don’t know what it means really). This saves the utility money from having to purchase expensive power for your A/C but we aren’t asking our big load customers, ie. industrial, to cut their loading. We also are purchasing green credits now that we can sell or let people pay a little more knowing that they just bought some ‘green’ energy from Texas(1200 miles away). In the end, the utility doesn’t have to pay for expensive power but after all, your rates still go up anyway.

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