For years scientists have been arguing that the rest of us do not see what they see when we look at data about climate change. While the documentary An Inconvenient Truth provided a compelling narrative, few feel that awareness of these issues has led to wide scale behavior change.
It seems that it is natural human behavior to forget about rising CO2 levels and warming glaciers when we make the critical decisions that negatively affect the environmental. Despite all of the increased data and knowledge about global warming, do you know which decisions impact the earth the most?
Enter the power of data visualization to attempt to connect the dots between data, personal decisions about energy use, and behavior change. Several large companies and startups have taken on the challenge to build feedback loops for us to use to see the impact of our actions, and give us a construct for us to understand how we change our behavior.
This article attempts to provide an overview of early stage and even established data services that take a different stance on the right point of intervention, in the right time, place and context:
Personal energy use
You can start by attempting to measure your personal energy use on the various footprint calculators on the Web. A simple quiz-style footprint calculator like the one provided at Nature.org will tell you how your household stacks up against the US and World averages, or the Android app ecorio.
Car energy use
Toyota was one of the first companies to demonstrate how data visualization in the vehicle could affect eco-efficient driving with their Prius dashboard, showing the electric-gas engine at work in response to the driver’s pedal use. Since other car companies have launched their low emissions vehicles they have attempted different ideas for giving feedback. The Ford SmartGuage dashboard turns smart driving into a video game that rewards you with a growing vine as your efficiency climbs. The Nissan Leaf uses remote monitoring systems to report remaining batter life and location of charging stations. The Chevy Volt, prior to the car’s launch, already has an iPhone app that enables battery monitoring, and shows energy data over time.
Home energy consumption
PG&E, GE, Google, and Cisco have all created energy-monitoring smart meters for homes, along with several venture funded start-ups such as Energy Hub, Tendril and Green Energy Options. These firms are in a race to compete for their share of the emerging energy feedback market. The vision is that when these feedback systems are connected to a smart, clean energy grid, we will be able to modify our energy use in response to cost and environmental feedback about the use of energy intensive appliances.
Everything energy consumption
There are two companies attempting to provide a framework for measuring the impact of all things. The HP CeNSE system promises to become a “central nervous system for the earth.” Project Team Leader Peter Hartwell envisions billions of small, cheap, sensitive detectors that react to motion and vibration, for the purpose of measuring weather conditions, traffic, and structural strains on buildings, all centrally controlled by major infrastructure providers. Meanwhile, Pachube provides an open source platform for monitoring “the Internet of things” with environmental data sensors attached to devices and buildings. Pachube is a website to which users can submit sensor data from environmental sensor networks retrieve the data through Pachube’s servers in a consumer-accessible way, and that you can begin playing with today.
All of these businesses, large and small, are taking a leap of faith that data visualization of environmental feedback will change the way we make decisions about energy usage. Which company or idea do you think will be the most successful?