The following essay was a finalist in the BC Hydro Invent the Future Contest. For more information, visit InventTheFuture.ca
GREENFOOT is a web-based environmental community whose participants are ranked according to their measured “carbon footprint” at home and in transportation. Measurements of energy and water use are calculated in the home using smart metering techniques, along with GPS transportation measurements in cars and buses. These measurements are transmitted to a wireless hub in each home, which then sends the data rankings to the web community in real-time. This social community creates awareness, competition, and accountability for its users and their lifestyle choices. Further, it gives participants a central place to collaborate and gain momentum for environmental causes while challenging their wasteful behaviours. (see Appendix A: How It Works for information model)
Age 24 years, Port Moody
Entry Name: Greenfoot
Environmental changes have forced some individuals to re-think the ways that they live and consume. Although many people feel that something needs to be done to address climate challenges, there has been a lack of coordination in the methods attempted thus far. This disorganization, coupled with the eagerness to help, has left many feeling overwhelmed. Several problems have become apparent:
There are many people concerned about the future of the environment. But who are they? Where are they? There has been no way for regular citizens to organize, collaborate, and work towards common goals with defined methods, under a common identity. As a result, there has been no way to gain momentum and create widespread social change. The lack of organization in combating climate change has left many feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
2) No Immediate Visible Impact
Whenever someone makes a decision with the environment in mind—ride the bus, use energy-saving lightbulbs, etc.—the positive result is not immediately seen nor quantified. While an environmental enthusiast may not be bothered by this lack of immediate visible impact, the average person needs extra incentive to be environmentally responsible.
3) Company “Greenwashing”
Many companies advertise as being “green” and “environmentally friendly” due to the market advantage created by these claims. However, there is currently no method for the environmentally aware customer to verify these claims. This has led to consumer-deception and responsible companies not receiving the market advantage they deserve. (see Appendix D: Fighting ‘Greenwashing’)
Environmental enthusiast: someone who is unfailingly dedicated to the state of the environment.
Concerned average: someone who is concerned about the environment to some degree, but not at great cost to themselves.
Small-to-medium-sized businesses: companies and services that are small and medium-sized (restaurants, general stores, banks, clothing stores, etc.)
How It Works
1) Measuring home output
When a homeowner is informed of where energy use occurs within the home, it often results in significant reductions in energy consumption (Smart Power Meters and Real-Time Pricing Leads to Saved Energy and Money, Treehugger, 2008). Home energy audits and total energy output figures (ie. 1134 kilowatt hours per month) are useful in reducing consumption; however, neither provides enough real-time detail to empower a homeowner to regularly solve their own usage problems and maximize energy savings.
With GREENFOOT, smart metering techniques would be used in individual homes to identify the energy output of the home, narrowed to specific rooms and power outlets (see Appendix B: Smart Metering, Appendix E: Existing Technologies). The detailed information provided to users would enable a problem solving process within each home, and allow users to make informed decisions that would not be possible using only energy output totals. The step-by-step problem solving process used by GREENFOOT is as follows:
- Provide a user with detailed energy usage totals in the home.
- Allow a user to determine the exact power output to each room, appliance, and power outlet. This enables a user to understand precisely where and how much energy is being used.
- After targeting areas to reduce energy usage, allow a user to do daily monitoring to ensure they hit their desired energy reduction targets.
Further information would maximize the homeowner’s ability to save money and use energy efficiently: identify peak hours and identify appliances using more energy than expected (vampire power). Small plug-ins for targeted outlets would enable a user to see real-time energy usage and financial costs. Ambient lights on these plugs would indicate how well someone is hitting his or her usage goals.
2) Measuring transportation output
Using a GPS locator on a key chain, travel time by car, bus and on foot would be calculated. (see Appendix C: Transportation for details)
3) Home output + transportation output = total environmental impact (GREENFOOT)
A wireless router found within each homeowner’s home would continually receive measurement data being passed to it by smart meters (see Appendix B: Smart Metering), as well as transportation calculations. An algorithm combining all measurements would determine a person’s total environmental footprint based upon output, home-size and other factors.
4) Environmental footprint wirelessly sent via router to GREENFOOT web-based community
Once a calculation is made for each user’s environmental “footprint,” users are ranked and compared to other participants in the GREENFOOT community. The other participants are homeowners as well, found within the same neighbourhood, town or city. Users can choose to limit the information presented on the web-based community in order to protect privacy.
Members of the web-based community would compete to have the lowest “environmental footprint.” The community provides a common meeting place for those concerned with environmental issues, empowering them to combine member efforts towards common goals. These goals can be further communicated to recruit new members and make its presence felt within each city. The community allows each participant to recognize that there are many, many others who have the same environmental concerns as them, and to avoid feeling overwhelmed by climate challenges.
The web-based community provides many other opportunities for members: exchange ideas for saving energy, research energy-efficient products to see how a homeowner’s current appliances stack up to the best on the market, analyze what areas of a town or city are the “greenest,” view real-time electrical bills, plan gatherings to tackle local environmental issues.
5) Company participation
Currently, companies are able to deceive consumers by “greenwashing” irresponsible practices, hiding behind claims of being environmentally sound (see Appendix D: Fighting ‘Greenwashing’). GREENFOOT participation enables interested companies to prove that they have responsible practices. This provides responsible companies with the market advantage they deserve.
6) Symbol of participation
The logo for GREENFOOT acts as a symbol for the web-based community and displays a participant’s ranking through the amount of light emitted (see Appendix F: Symbol). The lighted symbol would be usable on the front of homes, the backs of cars, and in storefront windows. The symbol would create a sense of awareness and a constant presence within communities, allowing users to recognize that energy conservation is a lifestyle. Further, the constant presence would begin to spark the attitudes needed for social change.
Smart meters: in implementation of smart metering in North America, energy providers have added marginal increases to customer energy bills to offset the costs involved. The appeal of time-of-use energy bills helps to ease the impact of those increases.
water tap attachment: for participants that wish to view water usage statistics in real-time, they would be required to purchase a tap attachment. This attachment would need to be able to communicate with the smart meter and would be approximately $30–50.
Wall plug-ins: for participants that wish to view real-time energy usage statistics in outlets around the home, a wall plug-in would be required. Kill-a-Watt wall plug-ins, which have similar functionality, are available for approximately $25.
Collector router: energy providers have covered the costs of wireless data collectors for homeowners in North America. Data is typically transmitted from one home to a master collector that can manage the energy data of many houses at once. However, if participants were required to purchase a personal router for participation in the web-based community, it would cost approximately $50–100.
keychain attachment for transportation data collection: required for the design of this keychain attachment would be basic sensor technology and GPS location capability. Products with GPS receivers are approximately $50–100.
Appendix A: How it works
Energy usage and transportation data is recorded by a wireless router in every participating home. The data is sent to a web-based community, where users are ranked against each other in environmental “footprint” and can compete to have the lowest GREENFOOT.
Appendix B: Smart metering
Smart metering is a growing trend in Canada, the United States and the UK. In the hopes of reducing power consumption, some energy providers are issuing smart meters to homeowners to enable basic energy monitoring. Older electricity meters often force homeowners to wait for an energy bill before providing insight on where to cut back on consumption.
Smart metering sends measurements through wireless transmission to a data collector, which is then transmitted to the energy provider. This data is then returned to the customer when they receive an energy bill. In some cases, homeowners are given web access to detailed consumption statistics.
Given this current change in practice, it is an ideal time to give homeowners a larger role in energy moderation. Smart metering technology is in position to be used as a stepping stone towards powerful social change, allowing energy conservation to be maximized.
Appendix C: Transportation Output
Transportation “footprint” is measured through a keychain attachment. The keychain attachment has a built-in GPS Locator that records locations over five-minute time intervals. If a certain distance is travelled over a certain amount of time, it knows that a person is not walking, and is either driving or riding the bus.
The keychain attachment transit sensor is activated if someone passes through sensored transit doors, triggering it on. The keychain sensor is then triggered off upon leaving the bus. Once knowing that transit was used, the GPS Locator calculates the distance traveled.
Appendix D: Fighting “Greenwashing”
Companies advertising themselves as being “environmentally friendly” or “green” has become a popular marketing strategy in recent years. Further, it has become clear that the environmentally concerned customer is a valuable person to attract, and companies are recognizing the available financial advantage. However, while there are companies who engage in legitimately sustainable corporate tactics, there are many who do not. These companies often use misleading slogans or advertising campaigns to disguise irresponsible practices and appear environmentally friendly.
Using the GREENFOOT web-based community allows environmentally friendly companies to prove they are responsible. Once proving to be responsible, companies can receive the market advantage they deserve by being publicly recognized for sustainable practices.
Appendix E: Existing Technologies
“Agilewaves” is a touchscreen monitor that allows users to drill down to specific information about water, gas and electricity usage, see what that usage means in terms of dollars and carbon footprint, and set goals for resource use and capping their impact. [...] Users can monitor their data from afar through their internet or web-enabled phone and mobile devices, and can receive text and email alerts if they're approaching the limits they've set for themselves."
"You just plug it in the power outlet, plug into it whatever it is that you want to test et voilà! The first step toward conservation is having feedback on how much you consume. [...] Kill-a-Watt is not quite perfect: Having an easy to read power-meter that tells you how much everything (individually and together) inside the house consumes in real-time, as with the so-called intelligent houses, would be better, but K-a-W has the advantage of being inexpensive and better than the nothing that most people have. You should be able to find it online between $15 and $25.
Personal Water Meter
With personal water meter (PWM), people would be able to track their usage on high traffic fixtures in the home such as showers and sinks. The PWM tracks water usage per day/week/month all in real-time, so you can see exactly what you’re using, when you’re using it. The counter starts and stops when water flow does, so when flow begins, the “single” option will appear on the screen and count from 0 liters to however many you finish with. This amount will then be added into the total liters per day/week/month. Each time frame will reset accordingly. As water flows through the PWM it spins a propeller. Much like a car will gauge RPM’s, a small sensor will count the revolutions of the propeller, and send the information to the CPU. The speed of the propeller can then be converted into a formula that can determine the volume of water that has passed.
The PowerCost Monitor monitors your home's energy use in real time, and tells you how much it’s costing you. It makes it easy to see which appliances are sucking up the most electricity, and how you can save money by conserving. With just two pieces (the display and the sensor) and easy installation (no electrician required), the PowerCost is an easy, low-maintenance fix that can help reduce your home's electricity use by 5 to 20 percent."
Real-Time Energy Meters for the UK
The government of the United Kingdom has decided that people should know how much energy they're using all the time, and which appliances are the biggest draws on their power. The U.K. will soon be giving a free real-time energy meter to any household in the country that requests one."
Wattson monitors the energy usage in your home. Turning any appliance on, off, or switching it to standby creates an immediate effect, showing how much power the appliance takes to run, and how much money it costs to keep it running. There are two parts to Wattson; a sensor that lives near the home's electricity supply, and the wireless, handheld display that can be taken anywhere in the home.
Southern California Edison
Southern California Edison announced that 4.8 million of its customers will reap the benefits of its news $1.63 billion smart-metering program. Some 5.3 million meters will be installed (some customers will get more than one meter) by the California utility between 2009 and 2012.
Appendix F: Symbol
The logo for GREENFOOT acts as a symbol for the web-based community and displays a participant’s ranking in the amount of light emitted. The lighted symbol would be usable on the front of homes, the backs of cars, and in storefront windows. The symbol would create a sense of awareness and a constant presence within communities, allowing users to recognize that energy conservation is a lifestyle. Further, the constant presence would begin to spark the attitudes needed for social change.