live|work: If Energy Were A Colour

The problem with energy is that it’s invisible, we can’t see how much we waste or over-consume (I introduced this notion in my last Treehugger feature). And the same sentence works when you replace ‘energy’ with ‘CO2’. Someone once asked me to imagine that CO2 was a colour and then asked me to look up at the sky. Everything was a thick blood red in my vision and it was leaking from everywhere – a disturbing image of reality. Add to this that, historically, the problem with energy is that it is/was cheap. The cheap component is changing, as is a looming sense of energy insecurity, which provides us innovation consultants with a rich platform for changing the way we consume energy – potentially. I’d like to introduce some work going on this area AND get some feedback from you readers. The following illustrates my point about our changing relationship to energy. Last week I overheard a conversation in the office I share with Sputnik-Inc in New York, where the partners were comparing the kW increase over the last year. This was prompted by the drastic increase in the size of their energy bill, which was informing discussions about their new office move and the potential size/cost of it. It was a conversation I had not heard before in a business context. I also heard someone talk recently about an experiment she conducted with her domestic gas consumption: she used the theromostat in her home as an on-demand heating device (overriding the timer switch, which is still pretty wasteful), relying solely on her judgement and action to heat the house. She proudly managed to reduce her quarterly bill to circa $30. I wonder, will obsessing about kW or miles per gallon or CO2 per mile or other become a new social behaviour or diet? Hello skinny celebrities with your size -00 status (Victoria Beckham, Nicole Ritchie you know who you are), can you get skinny on energy consumption? How might we make energy more visible and a discussion point in our lives? Here’s maybe a way…

live|work has partnered with the Interactive Institute in Sweden to develop a new domestic energy service that influences consumer behaviour – reducing energy use – and demonstrates a business case for a demand-led proposition from a ‘provider’ ie, ‘selling reduced energy use’. The project stemmed as a research concept and technical platform – "Wattch" – implementing realtime energy monitoring in domestic homes (it’s currently being implemented on the TV platform), the aim of which to make visible our energy consumption whether it is turning on a light or boiling an over-filled kettle. Each household will have an interface into their energy consumption and reward incentives that respond to how well they are doing on their energy diet. Yes, it is remarkably like Weight Watchers where you eat under your calorie intake for the morning and you can reward yourself with half biscuit in the afternoon. Oh, and share your successes with others.

But it’s not enough to ask consumers to reduce their consumption by making it visible because who is going to implement this demon and sell reduced energy without an economic / business incentive to drive it? In this scenario it would mean that Mr Energy Co gets less dollar because he is selling less of his product. And how do I the overweight consumer shed my excess without a diet book and a bit of support?

So, live|work was brought in as a partner to explore the new value opportunities for potential energy ‘service’ companies ie, those who would make their money selling a service package around the product commodity (gas/electricity) that would enable and incentivize reduced consumption of the commodity. The project is work-in-progress – currently the realtime metering platform is being prototyped in homes in Sweden – but I’d like to share a number of the working scenarios to illustrate the point and the opportunities. Please note I will be presenting the work at the Emergence Conference – Sept 8-10 and at Sustainable Innovation 06 conference – Oct 23-24.

I really welcome your feedback on the concept of selling energy as a service. It would be great to hear of any other examples of work being done in this area; it would also be great to hear examples (beyond the energy sector) where monitoring consumption or activity is being use to affect behaviours (in the past I’ve mentioned pedometers, training schedules, dieting, carbon offsetting, in-car fuel efficiency monitoring and footprinting).

Energy services scenarios – examples of the service platforms being developed:

Energy Co-operative© – A community-owned energy fund functions as a financial lender and an energy consultancy (also supplier of energy) to ensure that home-owners can implement energy saving or micro-generation and secure their energy future – together

Home Service Account© – Responds to serviced energy supply in apartment blocks (typically a standard fee for limitless energy with no incentive to use less), the HAS aims to increase efficiencies and simultaneously reward tenants with ‘negawatts’ to spend their savings on other home services (aka a rewards programmes) – so you pay the same flat fee, but get rewarded by the energy savings you make against it

Retail Brand EnergyCo.© – An off the shelf energy savings package in one from a known retailer – includes the sale of branded energy saving products and services and the supply of energy; the retail brand sells energy, savings, finance, products etc and implements the energy monitor at no cost

Energy Inheritance© – Guaranteed long-term energy supply for an upfront investment fee and ongoing subscription to the service; revenue generated is invested in renewable sources (an energy future), with the consumer taking a stake in the investment, and a long-term bank of energy is secured for the members, which increases in value the less they use (using less energy translates into a better yield on investment)

Energy Mortgage© – Percentage of a household mortgage taken out as an energy investment – the money enables key energy efficiency measures to be undertaken on the home and the energy monitor to be implemented; cost of energy savings is offset against the interest on the mortgage; the mortgage rate is negotiated according to the number of people who sign-up together for it

Energy Data© – e-tag monitors energy domestic energy flow and consumption and builds a picture of the consumer, add to this all other consumer CO2 footprint monitoring, and a valuable data algorithm emerges; the consumer earns dollars for trading this information with a selected group of businesses; Energy Data Co. supplies energy and a fee for brokering data with 3rd parties

Copyright live|work Studio and the Interactive Institute Sweden.

Written by Tamara Giltsoff

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