8 Lessons From Twitter Energy Monitoring

by Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Two weeks and 77 tweets later, the Twitter “green_watch” project has come to an end. Lots of insights, problems raised, and beginning of answers.

The goal was to use Twitter as a real time, online reporting tool for my personal energy consumption, round the clock.

Lessons learned from the project:

#1. The more engaged we are in flow-like activities, the less our propensity to consume energy and buy things that depend on energy for their production:

Adults and children should be encouraged to develop capacity to engage in activities that are deeply satisfying by themselves, eg, hobbies, work, physical activities. Early education could play an important role in that respect. Children’s creativity should be encouraged more, including the ability to do much with little.

#2. Energy vampires, although well known by now, continue to do their silent work of sucking up electricity unnecessarily, and with no added benefit for the end user.

Smart meters, power strips, are available. But how many people use them? How many know much they could save? The effort required is still too great for the mainstream.

#3. There are no readily available monitoring system to alert us when we are consuming energy, and how much, and in ways that talk to us.

I understand $, comparisons, savings, cute pictures, and sensorial signals such as bells and changing colors. Forget kWhs, tables, and graphs. Lots of work is currently being done in this field. But it still has a long way to go, and is still in pilot stage.

#4. The switch from car to alternative low energy mode of transportation requires that people experience first hand the superior benefits of those alternatives.

From riding my bike a few times, I realized that biking was better for my health, took no more time than driving, avoided traffic jam and parking problem, was a lot of fun, and cost me nothing. Same with taking the train, and realizing that I could use time riding productively, working on my laptop, or reading, plus I did not have to find parking. This shows the importance of jumpstarting the conversion process by eliminating barriers to trial of other mode of transportations.

#5. We are addicted to convenience, even more than to things. Rather than fighting that addiction, we should focus on sustainable alternatives that are as, if not more convenient that current solutions.

The bike example also applies here. If we can convince people that biking is as fast, and less hassle than driving, at least for short distances, then we will have an easier sell. Trying to go against that cultural reality of our Western world, is likely to be met with great resistance, and be counterproductive.

#6. There is a huge fuzzy area in collective energy consumption, and indirect energy use. How does one establish the share between individual and institutional responsibility?

At home, and in my car, I am in charge. What happens when I consume electricity from lighting on the freeways, or university campuses? Or when I buy processed food, without any knowledge of the energy that went into producing it? Information becomes critical, as in food carbon labeling, or public display of energy consumption, for let’s say a public pool. Although not a mainstream reality yet, such information would empower individuals to make informed decisions about their use of such collective services.

#7. Green-ness is a privilege of the rich. People with money to spend on home solar installations, hybrid cars, and carbon offsets for air traveling, can lower their carbon footprint, a lot more easily than their less well-off fellow citizens.

That is a fact. In the absence of significant government subsidies and investments, the average person needs to work a lot harder to decrease his or her carbon footprint

#8. Energy efficiency and conservation, the two low hanging fruits of climate change remediation, have not yet entered the public consciousness.

I am dreaming smart homes, smart transportation, smart consumption. No fancy new technologies required. Only a shift in mindsets, and the pulling together of existing technologies.

Any ideas how to make this happen? I am asking you . . .

Marguerite Manteau-Rao is a green blogger and marketing consultant on sustainability and social media. Her green blog, La Marguerite, focuses on behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability issues. Marguerite is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Since Sarah Palin’s VP nomination, she has also been impersonating Ms. Palin at What’s Sarah Thinking? blog

3 replies
  1. ATuck
    ATuck says:

    You raise a number of key important points in your blog post worth emphasizing. Efficiency is indeed the low hanging fruit, and many people just don’t realize the simple things they can be doing everyday to lessen their financial and environmental burden. Vampire loads are one great example, but even the impact of raising and lowering a thermostat by one degree can make a considerable impact. For so long, we have waited for our energy bill to come in the mail – as much as 45 days later – only to see one number and a mystical kilowatt/hour figure. This guessing game that we play with our energy costs has made it virtually impossible to make an impact on and take control of our energy usage. It is really this consumer information and awareness piece that is critically missing and the piece that is needed to further adoption of in-home smart energy solutions. At Tendril, we’ve put together a smart energy guide to help consumers rein in their energy bills. What we need are comprehensive platforms that connect utilities and their households in a real-time, two-way dialog. Providing this unprecedented insight into home energy consumption at a granular level and empowering the consumer to make measurable, simple decisions in their everyday lives will be the catalyst in driving greater adoption of energy efficiency. As I know well, these solutions are now coming to market, but what is important is that they are designed with the consumer in mind, and foster greater communication between households and their energy providers. -Adrian Tuck, CEO Tendril and Vice-Chair of ZigBee Allianc ehttp://www.tendrilinc.com/blog/

  2. Nils
    Nils says:

    First, thanks for doing this experiment! The first step for improving things to start to pay attention (and then tell us about it, I guess 🙂 Of course, we can't expect everyone to pay attention, and so your #3 and #5 points are critical. Realistically, we're not going to solve the big problem if it's not (perceived as) easy and convenient for us individually. Luckily, energy efficiency can be easy and convenient, especially if it gets built into the structure of our lives. For example, if you can't buy incandescent bulbs anymore, everyone will suddenly have much more efficient home lighting, like magic. Regarding #7, there's probably a tradeoff already – the rich start out using more energy than the non-rich. So even though they can afford to reduce their energy footprint, they're often starting from a higher level of usage.

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