Demand management, one shower at a time
Electric utilities have been trying a variety of measures to encourage their customers to conserve energy — “smart” thermostats that show you your usage in real-time, a guilt-gram of annual power usage included with one’s bill, Web interfaces that let one monitor/control consumption from their PC — but beyond the novelty of flicking an “off” switch on your A/C from work, getting people to curb consumption can be as tough as getting 5-year-olds to eat broccoli.
TreeHugger offers a rundown of another (impossibly simple) sort of demand management measure: a $5 device that lets you know — in colors a 5-year-old could recognize — when you’re taking too long of a shower.
According to Dezeen, you just put the tiny device at the bottom of your shower. The WaterPebble measures and remembers the amount of water you consumed when you used it for the first time, and uses that as a bench mark for future showers. A series of LED lights tells you if you’re being more or less water efficient.
It’s got signals as simple as a traffic light, costs slightly more than a large Starbucks coffee and is so easy to use that kids could teach their parents how it works.
On December 31st, the EPA retired ENERGY STAR’s specification for programmable thermostats, one of the main tools of electricity demand-side management (DSM). One of the chief complaints utilities heard from customers was that the units were too complicated to use, that it was difficult to remember to keep changing the settings when you left the house or went on vacation. They’re working on a new specification with an emphasis on usability, but firms working on new thermostat designs that will comply with the new standard should look to the Waterpebble for inspiration.
Keep it simple, and keep your user in mind.
(Last thought: could you imagine if Scholastic could market these to kids through their school book clubs, alongside subscriptions to science magazines and Ranger Rick?)
(Really last thought: yes, there are drawbacks to the WaterPebble… it’s still a voluntary measure, it doesn’t raise awareness about water use via sprinklers, sinks and dishwashers, and the usefulness of it could be ruined by the user taking one insanely long shower while calibrating it.
I don’t care; it’s a very smart $5 piece of technology and cute besides.)