Forget the graphs and bar charts; Glow makes it simple and intuitive.
The tabletops in our minimalist interiors are getting crowded as Alexa jostles for space with Google Home. One might even accidentally start talking to the new Glow:
It may not hear you, but it certainly can give you a lot of information, simply by changing colour.
Glow is a smart energy tracker for the home. It gives users glowing real-time feedback about their energy use, leading to energy savings and reduced impact on the environment.
If you look on the website or the kickstarter page, they seem to focus most of their attention on the inductive sensing, the device that you fasten to the electric meter and that does what the meter does -- read the amps on the basis of the strength of the magnetic field generated by the current in the wire. While they say theirs is patent pending, the principle isn’t new.
What’s different is what they do with the information.
Glow analyzes a home’s energy use data to understand how and when it uses energy. If it’s using more than normal, Glow turns amber, then red. When a home is saving money, Glow turns green. And if there is extended high usage, like if someone accidentally left the oven on or the fridge door open, Glow sends a helpful push notification to the user’s phone.
Glow doesn’t explain enough about how they do that on their website yet, but founder Ben Lachman responded to my email request for more information. They actually monitor your electricity usage getting “an hourly average, we look at each hour and compare your usage to the normal for that hour (e.g. the six o’clock hour with higher normal usage). For this and projects we look back over the last 15-30 days. We can add in your goals to this as well so that you are encouraged to use less compared to the norm.”
They then have base data they can use to flag variances. It evidently responds more quickly when you are good and save power, and is slower to respond turning amber or red. “This plays on the neurochemical dopamine release that humans have when they see positive feedback (e.g. the green).” You can also set targets and budgets that help you reduce your consumption.
Most utilities now have online tools and apps that let you monitor your consumption, usually with bar charts; there are a few remote reading tools that let you see what is happening in real time. The first key difference here is that it really learns what’s going on in your home. The second is that you are not looking at a bar graph or your phone, but a device that is sitting there looking pretty on your end table, in your face all the time in its own subtle way.
As the technology in our homes changes, it will affect how useful a device like this can be; in their video they show a user getting up and turning off a light to save energy, but these days, with LEDs, that would save about six watts. Our notebook computers and tablets don’t draw much. It’s the big white appliances, the dryers, air conditioners and fridges that are the vast majority of our electric loads now. Everybody knows that adjusting the thermostat or using a clothesline is going to save energy, but we choose comfort and convenience over energy saving. As their own pie (or is it a bagel?) chart shows, most of the wasted energy in our homes is from things we cannot easily control. I worry that modifying behaviour with the big stuff is a lot harder than the little things that matter less and less as a proportion of our consumption.
But I admire its subtlety and elegance, delivering a simple message in real time. Read more at Glow and on its Kickstarter page.