Archive for the ‘2.4 Research’ Category

2.4.8 Gadgets

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Earlier experience with design of small electronic devices made me believe the result of this research would be a “gadget”. But looking into small devices that you can generate electricity revealed that even the most advanced of today and near future are lacking quite a bit in usefulness.


Most of these devices have built in batteries that can be charged from the electricity grid before any renewable energy is stored. This is a side-effect of energy sources like the wind and the sun that have low energy density. They require larger equipment to be captured efficiently. Small gadgets wont produce a lot of electricity from these sources and are almost always equipped with additional charging solutions.

2.4.9 Fuel cells

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Magic Bullet?


Making energy directly from a fuel like Hydrogen, without burning it, can be done in an apparatus that through oxidation combines Oxygen (O2) with the Hydrogen (H) to create water (H2O). This apparatus is called a fuel cell and does release heat and electricity in the process. The fuel cell appears to be a dream machine, but requires an unsolved infrastructure to deliver volatile hydrogen to end consumers.

Infrastructure Problems
All the easily available fuel cells from Efoy and Medis and many others runs on Methanol and not Hydrogen. This results in a CO2 release when electricity is produced. As hydrogen is very volatile and is hard to store in a compact and small space, the infrastructure for Hydrogen is presently not there. Fuel Cell cars running on Hydrogen would work since they can drive to the filling station. These cars are still experimental, but might be available in a few years.

The available fuel cells might be convenient in providing silent electricity production, but they are currently not the technological solution. Not using hydrogen for fuel makes the cells carbon dioxide emitters (less known is that most of today’s hydrogen is made from hydrocarbons and not from water[1]) and to use hydrogen requires a big infrastructure to be built. In the future regenerative fuel cells could become an alternative as their only input is electricity and their only output is electricity[2].

References in this post
  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_production [*]
  2. CRM Prototech, Backup power, September 2008, http://www.prototech.no/index.cfm?id=223465 [*]

2.4.15 Interview: Findings & Evaluation

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Economics

The interviews made a few things very evident. Background and financial status had a great impact on the topic. The more financial secure home builders had a much more investigative and pro active perspective on renewable energy. Not only to save money, but to contribute to the reduction of waste energy.Gunnar, who is urban living and has an academic background, had an economical motivation for doing small improvements in existing energy infrastructure to reduce waste and the energy bill.

Background

The Architect couple, while professionally occupied with energy in buildings, had interesting experiences from different cultures. Living in Japan, France and the UK they could compare the variations. While Mirei, who grew up in Japan, had the more expressed need to turn off and unplug (even hated wasting energy while heating the electrical oven compared to the gas cooker) Jonas with a little more relaxed on the issue. Jonas experience with solar panels in the family was a little sarcastic: “A massive panel to power three puny little lights…”

Conclusion

Common for them all was a sort of two stage approach to the field; what they knew and what they did in their daily life. A design opportunity here would be to enable more of their knowledge to be used in their daily activities, maybe reminding or encourage them through visual interfaces? A system for encouraging educated green actions, at the moment of decision, would be an improvement. Today, much of the interaction with energy seems to go without consciousness (See “switches I press daily“).

2.4.14 Interview: Gunnar A. Thune

Monday, April 27th, 2009

12. Februar 2008 – Per telefon

Born:1978
Resident in:Bergen
Lives in a:Flat
Education:University

Photo: Gunnar A. Thune w. spouse
1. Jeg forbinder fornybar energi med vannkraft. I det siste har jeg vært vikar i en naturfagstime og undervist om vannkretsløpet der vannkraft inngår.

2. Min seneste erfaring med fornybar energi var et besøk til Dale kraftverk. Det er en tradisjon i Bergen at undomsskoleelever drar dit.

3. I dag kommer strømmen vi bruker fra Fjordkraft/BKK og en vedovn. Samt noen batterier.

4. Vi er hovedsakelig i kontakt med sin strømleverandør på to punkter; avlesning av strømmåler og betaling av faktura i nettbanken.

5. Ja! Jeg følger med på strømregningen som varierer gjennom året. Leser mye i media om energi og energi priser gjennom reklame, nyheter og fakta. Har også besøkt vitensenteret i Bergen. Men han følger ikke så nøye med at han vet hva strømprisen er!

6. Jo, jeg har tenkt at vi har fyrt for kråkene av og til. Sagt det også. Som utøvende populærmusiker ser han også at konserter og øvinger krever en del strøm for å drive lydbildet.

7. Hjemme hos oss slår vi av lys, fjernsyn, data og ovn, særlig hvis vi reiser bort mer enn en helg. Jeg drar ut noen støpsler daglig der det ikke er for tungvint.

8. Jeg har kjøpt noen sparepærer fordi det vistnok lønner seg. De ble kjøpt på IKEA hvor de var billige. Men vi har ikke gjort opp et regnskap over hvor mye vi har spart. ENØK står for ENergi ØKonomisering.

9. Ja, for så vidt. Jeg har tenkt på det med varme og slikt. Vi etterisolerte der det trakk som mest med tetningslister. Vi benytter vedovnen til oppvarming hvis vi har fått litt billig eller gratis ved. Da blir det fort mindre utgifter.

10. Jeg syklet på en sykkel med dynamo på vitensenteret og på sin egen sykkel med dynamo. Så jeg har produsert min egen kraft. Hva med do kraft, dragsuget som genererer strøm?

11. Det bygges et kraftverk i Jondal som man kunne investert i, men det gjør vi nok ikke. Det har vært vurdert å benyyte pellets, men føler ikke at det er fornybar energi på linje med vann, sol og vind.

12. Ja, det er jo fra, eller jeg går utifra at det kommer fra, vannkraft. Hørt om at det blir importert elektrisitet produsert i kullkraftverk fra kontinentet som forurenser. Hørte om et norskt gasskraftverk som ikke er i drift ennå, men som vi kjørte forbi en dag.

2.4.13 Interview: Margrethe T. Trædal

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Intervju med Margrethe Thune Trædal 12. Februar 2009 – Per Epost

Svar på bakgrunnspørsmåla dine:
– Eg er født i 1982.
– Vi er igang med bygging av egen bolig. I mellomtida leiger vi ein liten einebolig i Eivindvik.
– Min sivile status er samboer, og snart mor til et lite nurk :)
– Eg er utdanna radiograf ved Høgskulen i Bergen.

Photo: Margrethe T. Trædal

Photo: Margrethe T. Trædal


1. Det har vore mykje fokus på vindmøllepark her i kommunen i det siste, så det fyrste som slår meg er eigentleg vindkraft.

2. Erfaring og erfaring. Kan vel ikkje sei at eg har noko av den slag, men kjenner jo til begrep som vasskraft, vindkraft, bølgekraft, solenergi, men dette er jo gjennom fokus i media dei siste åra.

3. I huset vi leiger i dag, benytter vi oss av struam til det meste, men det er og vedfyring tilgjengelig.

4. I og med at vi nettopp har flytta inn i dette huset, har eg nyleg vore i kontakt med BKK/Fjordkraft over telefon. Heretter vil nok kommunikasjonen vere i form av fakturarer og internettbesøk.

5. Har nok aldri spesifikt tenkt over energiforbruket mitt ein bestemt dag, men prøver jo heile tida å begrense straumbruken. Dette har vi vore relativt fokusert på med tanke på huset vi skal bygge. Huset vil i stor grad følge nye byggforeskrifter, og vere oppvarma gjennom vassboren varme (luft til vatn) i tillegg til vedfyring. Har trua på at straumforbruket vil bli ein god del redusert samanlikna med eit ordinært bolighus utan slike tiltak.

6. Kan vel eigentleg ikkje vise til noko spesiell situasjon, men eg synest jo det er ei god gjerning å velge eit dyrare byggalternativ for å spare miljøet ein del. Ein anna ting er at vi på garden vi skal ta over, har skrive under kontrakt om bygging av vasskraft i elva som går gjennom garden. Det siste har jo for så vidt ikkje så mykje med mitt energiforbruk å gjere, men vi tillet energiproduksjon i form av fornybar energi på vor eigedom. Det gir jo ein god følelse :)

7. Er veldig bevisst på å slå av lyset i rom som ikkje er i bruk. I grunnen er eg vel bevisst på å slå av alt elektronisk utstyr som ikkje treng vere på. Er bevisst på å ikkje “sleppe ut” varmen, slik at ein brukar minst mogeleg energi på oppvarming.

8. og 9. Ser jo at eg delvis har svart på desse spørsmåla tidlegare. Kan ikkje seie at vi har tenkt spesielt over enøk-tiltak i huset vi leiger no, men som tidlegare nemnt har vi vore ganske bevisste på dette i planlegginga av det nye huset. Betre isolering, luft til vatnpumpe med vassboren varme, mogeleg tjukkare vindauge enn dagens standard, alle opphaldsrom i same etasje (med tanke på oppvarming). Langsiktig håper vi at dette også skal svare seg økonomisk.

10. Her må eg nok enkelt og greit svare nei, trur eg…

11. Vel, veit vel egentlig ikkje, men no skal vi jo investere i eit eige vasskraftannlegg (i samarbeid med eit energiselskap), sjølv om dette sansynlegvis ikkje vil forsyne oss med straum direkte. Men ei investering er det jo likevel.

12. Straumen vi brukar er kjøpt gjennom BKK og Fjordkraft. Den blir nok i dag produsert gjennom vasskraft.

2.4.12 Interview: Jonas & Mirei

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Interview with Jonas & Mirei – 14th February 2009 “Godt Brød – Theresesgate” – In vitro

Mirei – 1973 (from Japan), Jonas – 1978(from Norway), Lives in a flat in Theresesgate, Married with one kid, both is educated as architects

Photo: Mirei & Jonas

Photo: Mirei & Jonas


M: Thinks of renewable energy at a bigger macro scale. Thought first of solar energy, but then on a bigger scale. Heating for buildings is a challenge. But one cannot perceive if you get green energy.
J: Has recently been on a seminar on Renewable energy in the context of a building project he has been working on. Electricity out of the socket can come from anywhere, it can be green and it could come from coal.
M: If you are building a home, you cannot choose your energy, unless you build your home in the countryside with your own solar plant. In domestic homes in a city, it is hard.
M: Has done some research on Renewable Energy. It is in your daily life in form of recycling and looking on the stats of things you buy. J: Cars should run on apple cider!
J: In a flat, it is different, the energy provided to the buildings set. You have no influence unless you cooperate with your co owners of a building.
J: Look to Sweden they are better at this.
M: It has to be regulated; it has to be the government’s choice.
J: Are we talking about the real energy effect or people’s perceptions? (Important question)
M: Japan, politics  It’s on the political agenda In Japan.
J: Politics  that is important.
M: How can it be that Renewable energy works at a macro level?
J: How do you “know” that your energy is Renewable? Even if the choice is not yours, you feel you do something good (if you know the energy is Renewable) I.e. the “feedback loop” is very important.
M: Australia restricts the amount of water. (Forces different usage patterns) Can we choose how much we use? Can we limit.? The domestic environment. In Norway we do not turn of the lights, but in Japan they turn of the lights when not needed at once due to high prices.
3. Hafslund? No idea really, but also has a central heater with maybe an oil boiler.
4. Paying the bill, Paper bill.
5. Consciously switch of the light, extract the plugs as a reflex, but Jonas gets annoyed. They miss the switch on the plug in the UK. J: Every Socket has a fuse. M: The wires in UK are old.
6. When using the cooking oven she feels the energy is wasted when pre-heating to reach desired temperature. In Japan it is instant as they use gas. Lights – negative side of renewable energy (?)
7. Might turn down the heat, but thinking if the performance of new appliances is more important and better than sacrificing stuff.
J: In the UK we brought the heat with us from room to room as we used them. Central heating is a waste, would rather have instant heat in a room. In a building it is important for the person working in a room to have a perceived and actual control over the temperature, but in reality he or she has only 10% control.
M: Performance measure temperature, if people can control temperature, it is a perception that the temperature is much better the feel that you can influence the temp is more important than the actual temp. Perception is important, can accept a lower average if perception is that you have control.
8. No, do not think so.
9. M: No
J: Solar panels on the roof of old “hytte“. But it was a big panel for just three small lamps.
M: Old schoolbook in Japan showed a Swizz guy cooking an egg in a solar cooker.
10. No enøk at home, but they aim for low wattage in light bulbs.
The flat is very well insulated, the apartments above and below heats their apartment..
11. No!
J: Can (Should?) always sell energy to someone who needs it. It is obvious! Why can’t I put energy back into the grid? The fact that you are doing it makes you think of yourself as a producer.
J: Works on a fjord – heat exchange project with a new Veritas building. But excess energy from this has to be wasted as they cannot feed it back onto the grid. So if they produce when it is not needed it is wasted. So then they have to buy back regular grid energy when they need that. But on the grid the peaks are often covered by coal.
Veritas will have a counter at each dept. and then let them compete against each other for lower consumption.
A competition is a physical embodiment of Renewable Energy and worth designing for and to make the effort/(Effect?) visible.
J: You can’t see where electricity comes from and where it goes. The UK plugs are very visible.
It is unfortunate that ecology in design has to be visible, it can lead to ugly design.

About the Interviews

Monday, April 27th, 2009

What

A series of three interviews probing what families with no known specific interest in renewable energy was conducted in early February.

Why

To see the field from a different perspective interviews are important to include in the research. Objects and angles that are easily missed can be found through the talks with external people.

How

They were conducted through phone, email and face to face.

2.4.7 State of the art

Monday, April 27th, 2009

To determine where contemporary design focuses its effort it is useful to look at what is considered the “state of the art”. Popular technology oriented blogs and news sites such as Engadget.com and Wired.com spawn a slew of hype over new technology in small form factors. These gadgets often prove to be more hype than magic, especially when self-sufficient gadgets has the spotlight. Even the more promising technology of portable fuel cells that are available to buy has its limits in that once it is started it only lasts for 30 hours before it is waste! A more sober and promising segment of products is the after market energy meters. They let you meter and share the real time data of energy consumption in online communities. It appears however, that from a business perspective it is the collection and visualisation of consumption data that is their best offer today. With the intent to better manage their own energy distribution, with the possible effect of reduced consumption by the customer due to the visibility of the consumption, these products offer little more than comparable statistics.

Low on design, Low on Density

I regard the Renewable Energy design field as quite immature, unless one includes large/industrial size energy production equipment and control systems. I believe that one of the key factors to this is that the energy density of renewable energy sources is quite low. Wind and Sun requires large collectors or concentrators to generate enough energy to keep in touch with energy prices from other (also non-) renewable sources. Flowing Water has a high energy density (as pressure per sq/meter) that can be efficiently harvested using turbines, and in Norway 99% of the energy is made in this fashion.

None of these large scale methods is tailored for the private consumer. In some cases where the consumer is a long distance from a grid, smaller scale wind or solar or even water energy producing systems can be the more economical choice. So what we are left with in most cases for the private consumer are systems that are supplemental to the electrical grid.

Incentives

There is some variables to this. Especially are regional traditions and energy supply variations that have huge impacts on the way consumers perceive and act in their energy system. Various government incentives or restrictions do have a huge impact on private energy interaction[1]. This is often very visible in what gadgets that is available in different countries. If prices are high they have various watt meters with data logging and kW/h price information and even possibilities to share the information online.

Designing in two directions

I see two distinct routes for designers today. We have the product design track that includes a host of gadgets with solar panels or LEDs to replace more energy intense light emitters. This track also follow the big chunk of green design that looks green but that’s mostly because of the colours used such as untreated tree and green paint  ;)

Then there is the consume/production visualization/awareness. That can have tangible as well as pure digital interfaces. It is in this genre that most of the excitement is found today It seems. DIY Kyoto (Wattson), CurrentCost, Power Squid, Google.org are all doing much the same, measuring consume at the source in a home and visualizing it through the internet or just locally. More anonymously many energy utility companies have similar schemes both for convenience and due to regulations .

This track is also littered with many novel products that looks cool conceptually but seems to have a very little impact on any market. There is a Brazilian study that notes that many of the good looking acts to save or produce actually out consumes its intended saving/production potential (quote).

References in this post
  1. 2020, Sveriges Televisjon, 10 November 2008 [*]

2.4.1 Literature Studies

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Reading some books

In the book “Collapse” by Jared Diamond we get an insight into how societies through the latest millennia rise and collapse as a function of their wrong judgement of the sustainability of their culture. He raises a few questions that can be seen as a warning to an unconscious management and depletion of resources world wide[1]. From a design perspective on the same subject in the book “In the bubble”, John Thackara outlines opportunities related to how we as designers can work in a sustainable way[2].

Popular Science Publications

Popular Science Publications

Popular Science Magazines like New Scientist, Scientific American and American Scientist are magazines I regularly read for pleasure, but they are really good sources for innovations in technology and provides debate on many initiatives. They all agree that the climate debate is useful, but they discuss why, what and how quite heatedly.

References in this post
  1. Diamon, J. (2005). Collapse. London: Penguin Books [*]
  2. Thackara, J. (2005).

    In the bubble. Cambridge: MIT Press. [*]

2.4.5 Wired.com: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now!

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

The article: Power to the People: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now

An easy to read article that gives a good overview over current situation, in the US at least, and pointer to the road ahead.

… regulators in dozens of states began to implement decoupling, a policy that rewards utilities for coming in below generation targets. Suddenly, companies could profit by promoting efficiency[1].

This quote from the article suggests the benefits of changing the behaviour of power generators from maximum production to maximum efficiency. Schemes like that would have a great impact if realised all over the world.

The article covers seven suggestions to make the future electricity grid better. Some of the topics touch the ones covered in my ongoing diploma. Helping the end user produce electricity and making conservation of electricity easy are two such examples.

References in this post
  1. Koerner, B. I. (2009, March 03). Power to the People: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from wired.com: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/17-04/gp_intro [*]

2.4.11 Energy Dashboards in the Wild

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Energy Monitoring
The more I dig into this material, the more I find people and companies that are developing ideas on energy managment. Living in Norway and looking into this field has some disadvantages: Awareness to energy consumption and systems to increase awareness are almost non existing. Utilities stopped charging for over use and peak consumption a long time ago and since then people have had few incentives for tracking those parameters. Regulations, such as mandatory smart meter installations, are very important for change on a big scale in energy infrastructure at the moment. The previous post targeted independent initiatives to enable people to track their energy consumption and the reduce bill or carbon footprint. Barack Obama throwing money at energy initiatives these days could account for some of google’s interest. I conducted a search mission for the energy companies endeavours in the home monitoring market:

Energy Dashboards
The utilities that either have automatic meter readings and many that does not (requires manual readings) have fallen in love with various forms of energy dashboards. Some are real and some are just available as future concepts. Finding the utilities energy dashboards are somewhat difficult, they usually reserve their dashboard for local customers (but might have a video of it) and the independent ones requires that you buy some equipment for it to work.

Haflsund

This is my dashboard. They have some additional functions like comparing consumption to previous years and projected cost etc., but the graphing of actual consumption (manually entered) is the most interesting. As you can see there is a sudden spike, but that is another story. As this is my primary experience with energy dashboards I think we have a long way to go. It has far too little detail, which is not surprising as manual reporting is only required 6 times a year. Anything in between or a missing report is guesstimated. Without real time, frequent and detailed reports it has little value for me. I think I can imagine my consumption graphed over a few data points without this dashboard.

BTW: Received an email seconds ago from them plotting their status on smart metering: They offer a smart meter reading values by the hour (still not real time!). By 2013 all customers on their grid will have those, but for now I would have to pay 2500 NOK (279,36 €) to have it today.

Växsjö Energi

Watching this video suggests that not more than consumption over time is presented. There was some mention of a community competition, but not much on how it was carried out.

Logica

Logica talks a lot of smart grid and it’s benefits, but it is hard to track down any thing other than written material on their site.They do reference Växsjö mentioned above.

This nice presentation of their visions and ideas for possible uses in the near and distant future is worth a watch! Examples are “Mobile Smart Metering display” (possible a mobile application), “Follow me” energy billing (all types of energy is paid for and managed by same service)

Grid Point

This company seems to be very streamlined for operation in the smart grid market. They have several products on the market and they have a strong focus on the user experience. Though it is not that available at their site either, this company give at least a few glimpses on state of the art “energy dashboards”.
It looks to me that their core business is to sell big battery packs to store energy that can be released at peak consumption to balance grid load better. But then they built the smart grid services into and on top of that to extend their reach and value for customers. Smart move? More on the smart grid with nice graphics here (flash) and examples of dashboard use here (wmv) and here (wmv). As a first that I have seen they include electric vehicles in their grid with their own dashboards and services. The car as a key to home production of energy (Hydrogen economy anyone?) seems ever closer.

Even more dashboards from Cnet.

What did I find?
These added values to the energy services offered are not that easy to verify without actual testing. One thing that can be observed is that they are visual representations of consumption and production that is left to the consumer to act upon. From an Interaction Design perspective they look much similar to performance monitors on PC’s and their peers. At most the companies suggest they can compare various parameters against peers in a community, but imagination seems to end there. Imagination not at work at GE.

I am stuck with a feeling that we need to ask; what now/then? When everything is connected, measured and shared, what do we have? Pachube vocally leaves that open to the user of their API, but these questions does not seem to be asked or answered by the key players in the field.

/edit: Even more slick dashboards from various companies.

2.4.10 Social energy meters

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

— Lord Kelvin

This quote is central to a range of services that enables the concious energy consumer. The services build upon the activities of measuring, organizing and sharing your private energy consumption data. Originally this activity was done to keep you energy bills at bay, but today this is emerging as a collective effort to reduce global impact of greenhous gases. Statistics inform us that accsess to home energy information results in savings of 5-15% on the energy bill with comparable savings for the environment.

Google Power Meter – focus on display & share

Google recently announced through google.org an initiative for the collection, organization and utilization of domestic energy consumption through Google Power Meter. Although they are not the first, it is worth noticing when the one of the biggest companies on collection, organization and utilization of data enters this field. With partners such as GE (selling fancy smart grids), Google gears up to push policy makers towards open data formats and information flow to enable competition.. Pros: Huge reach that, if sucsessfull, will have an impact.
Cons: Is everything going to be on googles hands?

CurrentCost – focus on measure, display (and share)
At home in UK CurrentCost looks to be one of the more successful after market energy monitors. It is also “hacking” friendly by including means of outputting the data in a readable format for sharing. Pros: Commercial availability is good. Easy to use. Many users.
Cons: Feels a bit too specific for the UK

Wattson by DIY Kyoto – focus on measure, display and share
This enegy meter is sold with a personality and a much more louder “i’m doing something good for the environment” statement. It looks like a flipped shelf and is quite radical compared to CurrentCost, but might not be as intuitive as the CurrentCost device. The visual identity helps building this brand. There seems to be some issues with the companion software called Holmes that have enabled a paralell software and community.Pros: Designerly approach based on awareness rather than cost/kW/h principles. Open.
Cons: Ease of use and accsess to data seems to be obscured by the design philosophy.

Power Squid – focus on measure and sharing
A Norwegian initative by Origo that aims to measure, organize and share data though it’s website. Basically they try to find the cheapest way to do it by just directly upload the information from the current sensor to the web and circumvent the local, presumably costly, display device. And they share their progress in a Do It Yourself friendly format.Pros: Trying to be cheap and ubiquitous.
Cons: Some way to go before it is commercial.

Pachube – focus on sharing
I bumped into Pachube while doing my resarch. It is a sensor sharing API/Community. If you have a sensor online, you can share it at Pachube and the sum of sensors are available through The Pachube API to manipulate and use as you whish! Connecting your washing machine to twitter can be done through Pachube: “Miele @la-zy im am done washing for you!” Pros: The Internet Of Things is here!
Cons: What to do with all the feeds?

I would like to hear from you if you know of any more social power meters or if you have experience with such systems.

Interviews and concept development

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Going through my notebook I’ve started to weed out some concepts. As of now they are rather in-organized, but they range from technical to “design for discussion” projects. I’ll detail them shortly.
I will shortly arrange a workshop to elaborate more on the concepts. A goal here should be to focus the concepts into maximum three directions.

I’m also going through a round of interviews with families with different backgrounds. They are not complete or written in a useful format yet, but they are available from my skydrive here:

What have i learnt?
Based on just the three first interviews it is clear that knowledge and experience with renewable energy is very varied amongst the subjects. The different backgrounds leads to different motivation that have a big impact on their thoughts regarding renewable energy. In daily life unplugging leads and switching off lights seems to be a common trait. Again, the focus on lighting as an environmental culprit is a bit strange in regard of its low percentage of domestic electricity end usage.

2.4.4 Sustainable power is unsustainable?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Sustainability
As we might remember it was the Gro Harlem Brundtland commission that in 1987 coined the current meaning of sustainability[1]. And the term was defined as:

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Technology
A recent article on newscientist.com sheds some light upon this issue with renewable energy. Various technological innovations are regularly presented as magic bullets that will change our energy production. The article by Colin Barras explain how quite a few rare and non renewable resources are part of this technology and if adapted at a large scale the technology could actually deplete some resources quite fast. Indium and Platinum are used as examples in this case.

Lack of crtisism
After doing quite a bit of research on the technology and politics there is not that many places one does find critique of this field, though size of installations in nature is a common debate. I have mentioned this in previous posts I have written, that critique of both old and new paradigms within any field of work are extremely important to innovation. Innovations in renewable energy are often hyped like magic bullets. The result is a Sci-Fi impression of a white and sustainable future. But again, as the article touch upon, the technology itself might not be sustainable at a larger scale.

References in this post
  1. Lemonick, M. D. (2009, January 1). Top Ten Myths About Sustainability. Scientific American Earth 3.0 , pp. 40-45 [*]

2.4.6 Green actions from engaging interfaces

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I was tinkering with a definition on an action that you alter to make it greener:

“A green action is something you do to reduce your environmental footprint”.

I have found a couple of examples that points to the direction where i believe designers can contribute with key knowledge to facilitate green actions. The right information at the right time might enable you to choose the green action over the unsustainable action in the moment of the decision.

Prius consumption monitor


from Boulder to Detroit 529
Originally uploaded by this user

The image of the screen displaying “Consumption” in a Toyota Prius is a good example for a system that display relevant information in the moment of action. The information encourages you to choose the greener action by visualizing the reward you would get by reducing your “pedal pressure”. The reward in this case is more miles per gallon (MPG), which is a common parameter for comparing how economical a car is to drive. The screen also display how you are doing on a longer time scale by plotting data from the last 30 minutes. This seems to be enough encouragement, at least for this driver, to adapt a MPG optimized driving routine.

/update – Honda Insight which will compete against the Prius also sports an interface that encourages economical driving.

“The Personal Well-Tempered Environment”
Dan Hill, who operates City of Sound, has outlined a concept (blog|video) where information is the main driver for doing greener actions in our daily life. The idea is to collect all relevant information on consume and contribution of energy at home and sharing the data. This enables realtime resource mapping at an individual level, up to the neighbourhoood community and even city level. Information from this mapping, shown at the relevant point of decision, could change behaviour at many levels in a society.

The concept is convincing when sketched into the context of a home. Information displayed at action points could have an impact on consume. Collected into an API for buildings the concept connects to a larger social context that might impact citywide behaviour. In his video presentation Dan argues that the dashboard idea is a bit “geeky” and would rather have information in a tangible format outside of a screen. Dan raises a few concerns when inserting a lot of information into our daily life. Will it be stick or carrot? How can it be designed to inform without creating stress or moralize?

This is at the core concerning that given the right information at the right time people would choose the greener action.

Bits of the internet

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

While sifting through the net some items was caught:

Robots living in Urban Trash (Art)


ppndr-s (pepenadores) from Scott Burnham on Vimeo.

Tracking powerplant emissions in realtime. With a laser. (Augmented Reality)


Nuage Vert, cloud only from HeHe on Vimeo.

Just some beautiful inaugural balls. Imagine an interface made like this. (Animation)


Nokia E71 launch / 6 Billion People, 6 Billion Colours from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

This video (explanation) confirms my suspisions; that the Japanese are not of this world and would rather not step (full story)on it. More sexy projects on this translated page from Robot watch. My robotic nerves was stimulated and further enticing would give me an appetite for a workshop in robotic senses – taste at Miraikan.

These french guys seems to augment reality in a clever way.

Their showreel here, beware of the kitch .. more nice reflections here and here.

2.4.2 Observations through “green” keywords

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Working on my project “Untapped Energy” I try to observe projects and concepts related to Renewable Energy @ home from my perspective as a designer.

Initial searches
A search for “Renewable energy” @ flickr @ google images @ youtube @ vimeo returns a visual overview of the more popular aspects of renewable energy. Wind and solar power references are abundant. Some ideologists presents their home systems, but they seem bulky and expensive, usually installed at homes or cabins with generous resources. Some goverment and commercial interest are also represented.

Keywords
There is a lot of projects that are tagged with various “green” keywords. “Echotech” “Greentech” “Green design” “Eco design” “Sustainable Design” “Green gadgets“. These words generate a lot of noise and double hits. And they seem to often describe something made of wood or some technology wrapped in wood or veneer. It is hard to find the good projects just based on a keyword search, but you do get some pointers to blogs that can be used. I found that adding some more keywords generate more precise results: “Green Design Gadget“, “Solar Design Lamp“, “Solar design device“, “Hydrogen design concept“, “Energy design concept“. But the results need evaluation. I’ll get bak to that in a later post. Is seems to be better to use edited sites like Technololgy Review that has a great overview of the current state of energy technology.

Observations
First of all i find that it is perfectly doable to enable a solar or wind power augmented home, I’ll even encourage people to do that. It comes at a cost, but so does a cool sofa too. Secondly there is a gap between the current available renewable energy schemes, that are engineered for functional performance rather than aesthetics, and the futuristic gadgets and gizmos that get a lot of publicity. But there are some exceptions, especially for small scale gadget solar (review) and fuel cell (review) chargers. The fuel cell looks like a late 80’s gadget, like the early cell phones, but this seems to be the case for many first to market products.

I’m not so sure these initial searches point to the direction i want to pursue with my “Untapped Energy” project.

2.4.3 Going off-grid?

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Just before Christmas i read an interesting article in NewScientist, by Gaia Vince on people going off the grid. Off-grid is in this context disconnecting from the various public supplies people depend on for their daily life at home: Electricity, gas, sewage and water. In the US there are 200000 off the grid, in the UK there are 40000 living mostly self-sufficient[1].

Even though the climate issue is a driving force for people going off the grid there is also the satisfaction of being self-sufficient, reducing the cost and the security in being independent. And in Tony Marmont’s (UK) case, who has invested £2 million in being self-sufficient, price is no object when becoming one of the first to own his own hydrogen production facilities to store renewable energy for future use.

At this point in time the Marmont case is a good example of why not all of us is becoming our own energy producers; it’s expensive and requires a lot of equipment.

Gaia presents the reader with a list of steps to take to go off-grid.

  1. Calculate energy consumption
  2. Reduce energy waste
    • Home insulation
  3. Replace energy
    • Solar thermal
    • Photovoltaic
    • Sustainable grid energy
    • Wind turbines
    • Mini Hydro electric plants
    • Heat pumps
  4. Energy storage
    • Hydrogen
    • Batteries
    • Back-to-grid

The above list is quite interesting and until step four they are within reach for many homes. The last step, storing excess energy for night, winter and other times when generators does not deliver, is still out of reach for most homes as the technologies are big, bulky and expensive.

Hydrogen is touted by various sources to be the future solution to distributed energy production and the medium of choice to store ecsess renewable energy[2]. Hydrogen can be used directly as fuel in fuel cells for chemical conversion into electricity. I’ll get back to that in a future post. Sadly, converting home made electricity into hydrogen and back to electricity is quite costly at the moment for the regular citizen.

Consumption
The article also presented an chart of what we use electricity for in homes. I found it intriguing that the most visible use of energy, lights (Orange), only accounts for roughly 10% of total use.
I added the Norwegian consumption for comparison. There is quite a big rally for replacing the normal incandescent bulb with the more energy efficient CFL, but that would only dent total energy consumption. More interesting is the big chunk going into kitchen appliances (Red), that the use in the kitchen compares to general heating/cooling (Blue) was a suprise for me. A thought i got was what if you reduce total consumption, excluding lighting, by 10% and then double the amount of lights, you would have perceptually increased energy use by 100% but still be at status quo in total energy use.

References in this post
  1. Vince, G. (2008, December 6). Life Unplugged. New Scientist , pp.30-34. [*]
  2. Rifkin, J. (2006, November 7). The Design Of Prosperity. Borås,Sweden. [*]