The Global View

Glowing orb visualises energy use

OrbWhen the orb starts flashing red, start cutting your energy use. That’s the ever-so-simple simple premise behind the energy orb, which is already being used by one US utility firm to start changing people’s behaviour in terms of how they think about energy. And it’s working, as this piece in Wired highlights:

Within weeks, Orb users reduced their peak-period energy use by 40 percent. Why? Because, Martinez explains, the glowing sphere was less annoying and more persistent than a text alert. “It’s nonintrusive,” he says. “It has a relatively benign effect. But when you suddenly see your ball flashing red, you notice.”

What a great idea. The problem with energy conservation is that it’s hard to think about how much of a drain on the grid that new plasma screen TV is having, but by translating that information into a glowing ball, it’s immediately obvious.

Electricity is invisible. That’s why we waste so much of it in the home — leaving rechargers permanently plugged in and electronic devices idling in power-slurping “sleep” modes. We can’t see that our houses account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s energy appetite; we don’t know when the grid is nearing capacity and expensive to use.

So Martinez hacked his customers’ perceptual apparatuses. He made energy visible.