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September 02, 2006

Feedback And Behavior Modification Energy

As many of you know, I got a new Prius a few months back (license plate: "PEAK OIL" — I couldn't resist). I love it. Just a great car.

The Prius has an LCD display on the dash that displays your instantaneous and average gas mileage, updated in real time, with a big bar chart that makes the instantaneous changes in mileage dramatic to your eye. You learn very quickly what kind of driving behavior helps your mileage and what hurts it. And since you know the first thing people ask a Prius owner is what kind of mileage you get, maximizing your mileage becomes a game you play with yourself. The result, for me, at least, is a pretty dramatic change in driving habits. It used to be about how fast can I go without getting a ticket. Now it's more likely to be how slow can I go without pissing off the people behind me. All because I can see the effects of my behavior. I.e., because of feedback.

So imagine if we had this kind of instantaneous feedback for all of our energy usage. If we all had these kinds of readouts on the walls of our homes and offices, for example, we'd all be a whole lot more likely to turn off our lights and air-conditioners. And so on.

Out of sight, out of mind. But make it visible, and change happens.

Posted by Jonathan at September 2, 2006 04:05 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


And what happens to those of us -- millions of us in fact -- who can't afford fancy, new techno-toys?

That's all your hybrid really is. You must be smart enough to recognize that.

But such intelligence is clearly clever enough to rationalize just about anything and everything.

Out of sight, out of mind indeed.

Posted by: David Emanuel at September 3, 2006 05:35 PM

I have no illusions that all the Priuses in the world are going to delay Peak Oil by any noticeable degree. That really wasn't where I was going with this. I was trying to make what I regard as a larger point: the importance of visible feedback as a catalyst to change. There really is no reason the same principle couldn't be applied in all sorts of energy settings. It wouldn't take much, for example, to put little real-time feedback displays on the walls of homes, offices, etc. They'd pay for themselves in no time. There's a big difference between looking at your electric bill at the end of the month, on the one hand, and seeing instantaneous feedback every moment of the day all month long, on the other hand. With instantaneous feedback you learn quickly what works and what doesn't. That's what the Prius showed me. And it's a principle that could be applied much more broadly and at reasonable cost.

Posted by: Jonathan at September 4, 2006 01:24 AM