Trials are being conducted for a new system to monitor the real-time energy consumption in the household. The data is measured, processed and displayed, showing users how much power is being consumed by various electrical appliances. These efforts are part of a European Union research project that is creating new ways to allow consumers to follow and better understand their use of energy.
In a family home, on the outskirts of Helsinki, sensors were installed on various electrical devices. By observing their energy consumption on a laptop or a touch-screen mobile phone, they were able to see, for example, that cleaning the freezer led to a 15% energy reduction via defrosting.
Giulio Jacucci, coordinator of the BeAware project, is responsible for the software being used. The system is called Energy Life and utilises mobile phones to rise energy awareness. Users can see on their mobile phone display the energy consumption for individual electrical devices, as well as for the whole house, and can see whether devices in the home are turned on or off, or if more energy is being used than in the past. A crucial phase of the software development is making it user-friendly. Trials have shown that the software is best received with a 3D interface with touch-screen, mimicking a natural interaction. However, finding the right language to label the information, so that it is easily understood, has proven to be difficult.
Each software update is followed up with about 20 tests with volunteers at the University of Padua in Italy. How the volunteers interact with the software is recorded and analysed by the psychology professor Luciano Gamberini and his team using different methods, like structured video analysis. They then send the engineers feedback explaining where the volunteers are having difficulties.
The team from Professor Gamberini have also been looking into the attitudes people have to energy saving. Written questionnaires suggested that people in most cases have very good habits concerning energy use. However, when using a lie detector test, the statistics took a different form: almost half of the people gave untruthful responses to questions regarding sustainability (for example, leaving the lights on).
For the Energy Life system to be widely accepted, it has to be able to deliver information in a very clear and concise manner. This will mean that, rather than waiting half a year for the energy bill, users can see precisely where the energy is being used, and ultimately decide whether this energy use is really necessary. Researchers estimate that home-owners will be able to reduce their energy costs by 15%.