Energy efficiency may require 'cool factor'
R Colin Johnson
6/28/2011 2:39 PM EDT
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."