Image credit: Tidy Street/Jon Bird
We already know that smart metering can cut energy use 26%, and that harnessing neighborly peer support can help change behavior, but one street is taking these revelations to the next level. They're not only monitoring each residents' energy use and posting it online, but they are painting it as a gigantic graph in the road that stretches the entire length of the street.While the on-street energy graph is perhaps the most media friendly and visually grabbing aspect of the study, it is just one feature of the The Tidy Street energy project that is worth of note. The whole project is a fascinating look at just how much of an impact transparency and prominent feedback loops can make in encouraging conservation and behavior change.
Pencil and Paper Beats Fancy Software
Rather than investing in fancy energy monitoring equipment or software, the organizers of the project asked residents to manually record their energy usage before posting it online. This was not just a cost cutting exercise either, it seems that the physical act of recording usage has a direct impact on the awareness of the participant. Organizer Jon Bird of the Open University—which helped design and coordinate the study with residents—explained more about the thinking behind the approach to us by email:
"The public display was one novel aspect of the Tidy Street project. A second one was the fact that we got participants to read their meters and record their usage on the project website. Our motivation for using this energy monitoring approach was three fold: i) it's low energy; ii) it's low cost; iii) we thought this approach would make participants more energy aware in comparison to using a sensor network. All of the participants told us that manually recording his electricity usage did raise their electricity awareness. For example, one told us that he'd got an electricity sensor installed but had hardly ever paid attention to it, whereas manually recording his electricity usage daily had made him far more aware. Participants also got an appliance meter so they could explore how much electricity different devices in their home used."
Peer Collaboration Not Peer Pressure
Another fascinating feature of the study, as emphasized by Bird in his email, was the fact that this was never about peer pressure or beating your neighbor. In fact, while residents using the Tidy Street project's website can get important data on how their performance compares to averages on their street, and in their town, they can never access anybody's data but their own. This too, says Bird, was a deliberate choice:
"For privacy reasons, participants couldn't see the daily usage of other households, only their own. We also did this because when we were setting up the project householders told us that they want to take part in a collaborative, community-based project, rather than being in competition with their neighbours."
Energy Use Slashed by 15% in Just Three Weeks
Flemmich Webb over at The Guardian has some fascinating interviews with Tidy Street residents, and notes that in the three short weeks that the project has been running, the street average energy use has dropped 15%, with some households reaching 30% cuts.
If nothing else, I'll bet Tidy Street residents no longer leave their houses without looking back to check if the lights were left on...
More on Smart Metering and Community Energy Activism
Smart Metering Cuts Energy use 26%
Harnessing Peer Pressure and Support for Behavior Change
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