Taking Responsibility For Our Own Energy Use

More and more, we are seeing attention in the press about calculating personal energy consumption and finding ways to reduce it. With the launch of new gadgets which enable people to measure their energy use, it seems that technology is catching up with the new awareness of how to reduce our impact on the environment by cutting power consumption.

A year-long US government study has recently been released which shows that empowering businesses and homeowners to monitor their own electricity use is the most powerful way to highlight consumption and prompt people to take personal responsibility for lowering the amount they use. Over time, the report suggests that this could lead to a reduced need for building power plants.

Making savings in cost and environmental impact

The results of the research project undertaken by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the Energy Department showed that if households have digital tools to set temperature and price preferences, the peak loads on utility grids could be reduced by up to 15% a year.

Over a 20-year period, this could save $70 billion on spending for power plants and infrastructure, and avoid the need to build the equivalent of 30 coal-fired plants.

The project looked at consumer behavior and found that people responded well to having the ability to calculate their own energy use, prompting them to take responsibility of a personal level for reducing consumption overall. The study showed that it’s not simply a matter of providing the right technology to check power usage, but a psychological shift in people’s attitudes that can make a positive change.

In the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, 112 homes were equipped with digital thermostats, and computer controllers were attached to water heaters and clothes dryers. These controls were connected to the internet.

The people taking part in the study could then go online and make decisions about what they were prepared to do to make changes. These included cutting thermostat temperatures, and other small changes. The response was fantastic, with people actively making changes to reduce fuel consumption.

In this way, people took responsibility for managing their own power usage, prompting a series of positive behaviors across the group.

“I was astounded at times at the response we got from customers,” said Robert Pratt, a staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the program director for the demonstration project. “It shows that if you give people simple tools and an incentive, they will do this. Each household doesn’t have to do a lot, but if something like this can be scaled up, the savings in investments you don’t have to make will be huge, and consumers and the environment will benefit.”

The households in the demonstration project on average saved 10% on their monthly utility bills. The only downside to the project is that the technology behind it won’t be readily available for a while.

“What they did in Washington is a great proof of concept, but you’re not likely to see this kind of technology widely used anytime soon,” said Rick Nicholson, an energy technology analyst at IDC, a research firm.


Green iPhone Apps – Top 50

While the iPhone itself may not be the greenest piece of technology out there, there is a new list of 50 “green” iPhone apps would might come in handy for you. Many of them have a frugal slant as well.

Not having an iPhone I can’t test these out but apparently there are come great ones covering everything from finding cruelty-free cosmetics, locating sustainable business in your area, to calculating gas mileage and more.

Take a look.

An Eco ATM That Takes Your Old Electronics

Sort of a reverse cash machine, the Eco ATM takes your old electronics off you and then credits you what it’s worth.

Available only in America at the moment, the Eco ATM is an automated reuse-and-recycle machine that helps people get rid of old gadgets while making it financially rewarding for them to do so as well. A bit like when you put your old mobile phone in the post and then get either cash or reward points, instead of posting you feed it into the Eco ATM.


The device then analyses the phone and gives it a value – which could be store credit (depending on where it’s situated), you could choose to donate it to charity, or if it’s not worth anything then it will be recycled.

The Eco ATM will soon take MP3 players, digital cameras, computers etc as well as mobile phones. The easier they make it to recycle, the more people will do it, and this sounds pretty easy.

Spotted via Springwise.

Oscar USB Hub Eco Product Review

The United Pepper Oscar USB Hub is another device that attempts to take an eco-friendly approach to electronics in addition to their Lili webcam we’ve previously reviewed.

Oscar Eco USB hub

Designed in Belgium, and made in Vietnam the Oscar USB hub is made from 70% Fair Trade components. Removing as much of the plastic as possible, the usb hub is made from paperboard, cotton and kapok, and comes in red, blue or green (we got a green one of course!).

There’s not much to say about it, it looks cute, came in 100% PET recycled packaging, is only just over 6cm (about 2.5″), and has four USB sockets. It connects to your computer via a USB lead that connects to the hub via a mini-USB socket, so if you need a longer lead they’re easy to find.

Available for $30 or €25 from United Pepper it’s a nice sustainable approach to electronics.

Lili Webcam Eco Product Review

The United Pepper Lili Webcam is one of the first sustainable design electronics, and certainly the first sustainable webcam I’ve come across.

Lili Eco Webcam

Made from sand, cotton and kapok, the Belgian designers (it’s manufactured in Vietnam) have tried to remove as much plastic as possible. 70% of the material is Fair Trade, and it comes in recycled (PET) packaging.

As a webcam itself it’s not bad. A 1.3 megapixel camera does the job as a webcam but don’t expect to be producing quality recordings with it. It has a built in microphone and when communicating with family it works great, though the colors can be a little washed out. The sand filled legs are flexible that makes it easier to position on difficult surfaces.

The test version I’ve got strangely has a seperate plug for the microphone socket, as well as the USB connector, though I’m not sure if it’s like that in the final product. Installation was on a minin-CD and was pretty simple though novices might find the lack of clear English and full instructions a little tricky. It has a manual focus lens too which actually made some things easier to see than my much more expensive webcam.

Overall, for a simple webcam with a built in microphone you can do worse, and for a sustainable webcam, you can’t do better. Available for $45 or €40 from United Pepper.

Phrasebooks On Your iPod

Rather than shelling out to buy a paper phrasebook for your next foreign vacation, why not download one to your iPod instead?

Intelligent Travel reports that Collins have now released their popular phrasebooks in iPod versions. “They’ve taken the phrasebooks from the back of their Collins Gem dictionaries (about 500 different phrases) in French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. The phrasebooks are split up into sections (food, accomodation, emergencies, etc.), and iPod users can both listen to how the phrase is pronounced and see its spelling on the screen.”

Each book is a bargain at $10 / £4.99 however they’re only compatible with iPod originals and Nanos and not those fancy Touch or iPhones.


Turn Off Your Gadgets Easily

Having moved to the US I am still surprised by the lack of power switches on wall sockets. When the wall sockets have power strips attached, the strips usually have a power switch, but often they’re located on the floor or behind a set of drawers.

This Energy Saver Bar has a handy foot switch for turning off the power strip without that awkward bending down or hunting around. For around $30 (€19.95) it’s available from Proidee.

Energy Saver Bar

[Via: OhGizmo]