SAN ANTONIO, Texas—The Smart Energy Panel at the Freescale Technology Forum held here last week addressed the issue of smarter energy efficiency by asking its panelists to expound on the question: What is the biggest hurdle to action?
Freescale's own senior vice president, Henri Richard, started out the discussion by suggesting that energy efficiency could, in some cases, be as simple as working smarter by giving people the opportunity to pitch in with very little effort on their part.
"For instance, if your company has four printers scattered around the office, smarter software could tell you which of those printers is already warmed up, making it cheaper to print even if you have to walk another few feet to pick up your printout."
Some panelists, however, argued that we need to poke-and-prod consumers into action, giving them concrete incentives to change their energy-wasteful behaviors.
"People won't change their behavior for the long-term just to save the environment," said Brewster McCracken, executive director of The Pecan Street Project (Austin, Texas). "Accordingly, we have to find a way to convince them with savings or other financial incentives--we have to show them how to be more efficient in order to lower their bills."
The other panel members disagreed, saying that incentives may convince people to start-out being more energy efficient, but just citing statistics about how much they will save can sometimes backfire--such as telling people a shower costs them 10 cents instead of 25 cents if they don't run the water the whole time. The extra 15 cents cost will sound worth it to many people, compared to the inconvenience of lathering up while the shower is off, they said.
Christian Okonsky, founder and CEO of KLD Energy Technologies, agreed, saying that the devices we manufacture have to be energy efficient in-and-of-themselves, not by virtue of some extra effort made by the people using them.
"We need to create energy-saving devices that work out-of-the-box," said Okonsky. "Incentives and mandates are not going to do it alone—our devices have to create a positive emotional reaction to convince consumers to use them."
Duke Energy director of advanced consumer technology Mike Rowand agreed, saying that we have to show people that their lives will be better if they are more energy efficient, not that they will save money or the planet.
Smart Energy experts consisted of (from left): moderator Freescale's own senior vice president, Henri Richard, professor Brewster McCracken, executive director of The Pecan Street Project, founder of KLD Energy Technologies, Christian Okonsky, Duke Energy director of advanced consumer technology Mike Rowand, and Jun Shimada, president and CEO of ThinkEco Inc.
"We can encourage energy efficiency, but people care more about comfort than cost," said Rowand. "One consumer described it best to me when he said, 'Energy works for me, I don't work for energy.' The purpose of energy efficiency has got to be making our lives better—just knowing how much things cost does not encourage people to conserve."
Jun Shimada, president and CEO of ThinkEco Inc., added the "cool factor" dimension, saying that cost savings and comfort play second fiddle to the allure that people feel for their gadgets. After all, he said, people everywhere are walking around staring at their smartphones, which is neither energy efficient or particularly comfortable.
"The U.S is behind Japan and Europe, because here we want comfort and convenience, and things are not expensive enough for possible savings to encourage efficiency," said Shimadad. "At ThinkEco we believe that controlling energy consumption using a Blackberry or iPad or similar 'cool factor' device will encourage people to be more efficient, because we are making it fun for them to do so."
To promote energy saving is a big topic lately. The forum has some interesting discussions. One of the statements is correct - 'Energy works for me, I don't work for energy.' I think we are consuming the natural resource to promote economic growth. There is nothing wrong to use energy. Yet, there is everything wrong to waste energy. Wasting or using are somewhat personal perspective. Technology may be helpful to promote energy saving. The bottomline is how we change our habit to save more. Habits can include turn down the heat in the winter, regulated the air conditioner int he summer, driving an hybrid, etc. There are so much we can do before technology helps us. We just need to be a bit more sensitive to energy use.
You are correct, except that in the U.S., at least, people are fickle--tending only to care so long as their are shortages. As soon as energy becomes plentiful, for instance when gas prices are low, they start going "whole hog" again forgetting to conserve. However, if the cool-factor can be engaged, then even the biggest hogs may remain conservative in order have fun--which never goes out of style ;)
R_Colin has it right. Except that people don't forget to conserve, they just presume that if prices are low enough they don't need to conserve. And I haven't seen much in the way of different behavior anywhere else in the world that I've been either. Todays's children are being taught conservation much more than we were and, hopefully, that will eventually lead to better results.
While such forums are encouraging people to save energy on a personal scale, there has been a blatant misuse of available energy in some case just to get commercial advantage. Take for example the day-night cricket matches played in a country like India and that also in summer where there is a bright daylight available almost for 13 hours. The sport which is actually a dya activity has now been converted to only night activity to add glamor to it. Millions of units of electrical energy is being wasted here while on the other hand we are trying to grab that precious solar energy to convert into electricity using those expensive PV panels. Who is going to control this wastage?
The world is not serious over energy conservation. The fact remains that the people that live in mansions are those preaching this message. I was told that Senator Al Gore consumes 13% of his local utility energy in his house. It is not just talking, we need to act. I tend to believe people are talking to others without doing.
Behavior modification requires coercion. I prefer to leave that to politicians and lawyers. As an engineer, I prefer innovation - products that produce the same or better user satisfaction with greater efficiency.
So what happens when everyone is conserving energy? Here in Connecticut with some of the highest electrical rates in the country the utilities raise their rates because they aren't making enough of a profit. I have no incentive to conserve other than it's the right thing to do. The Smart Grid will just be an expensive boondoggle that enriches a few companies at the expense of the ratepayers. Our nifty new digital meters have turned into a fiasco as Northeast Utilities continues to stonewall the regulators over major issues with the meters - as in significantly wrong readings if one can believe what people with the problem have been saying. Do we really need to add all the appliances talking across the Internet? Next the "regulators" will be raising the temperature in my freezer!
I feel your pain. Here in the Northwest investors who put millions into wind turbines are getting paid zero from the utilities right now, because all the rain has created an excess of hydroelectric power. This is a massive dis-incentive similar to your problem with raised rates. However, this just makes a case for my story's thesis--that traditional incentives just don't work in the long-term, because the changing landscape of current events can short-circuit any particular incentive. On the other hand, people love their mobile devices more than their children now days (: I say, tongue in cheek :) so if companies like ThinkEco can make energy conservation as fun as "Call of Duty" on a smartphone, then people will likely "play" at it just for the "cool factor."
You are right! It is every engineers job today to include as much energy efficiency as possible into their designs. That said, I believe that if you check out ThinkEco's "cool factor" solutions, you will see that they are not just window dressing, but in fact do contain significant technological innovations as well.
Engineers shouldn't assume that the problem is insurmountable. Why should we give up prosperity and convenience? This isn't our heritage. We believe in solving problems. Energy isn't a bad thing. Energy efficiency is a good thing. We can figure out how to have as much energy as we need and still balance our ecosystem. We should not turn our innovative spirit and dreams over to politicians, we can solve our own problems.