The Commonwealth Blog

Can Feedback Loops Inspire Idle Humans to Slash Energy Consumption?

Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:22 AM

By Ellen Cohan

As environmentalists paint an ever-foreboding future, many Americans agree that reducing our collective and individual carbon footprints will be better for our planet and our wallets. However, the gap between opinion and action remains wide. A recent article in Wired posited that employing positive feedback loops in our daily lives could change that.

There are four steps in a feedback loop: data collection, data presentation, significance and action. That action, in respect to household energy consumption, would include such small tasks as turning off lights or unplugging certain appliances. The data is collected through small sensors that until a few years ago were far too costly for household use. Presenting the data is where creativity comes in, giving us what Wired calls “an emotional connection to a rational goal.” For example, Belkin’s Conserve Insight device, placed between the outlet and an appliance, displays in watts and – more important – dollars the amount of energy the appliance is using. This kind of information reveals to consumers the real-life significance of using certain appliances, thereby motivating them to change their behavior.

A company like eMeter employs feedback loops on a larger scale, working with businesses to measure energy use and reduce energy waste. Want to learn more about this emerging technology? Come hear Chris King, the chief regulatory officer of eMeter, discuss his solution for our enormous carbon footprints with Sally G. Bingham and Gregory Walton July 22 at The Commonwealth Club.