Can Smartphones Help Us Use Less Energy?

Although we may not be able to sever our ties to the fossil-fuel powered energy grid, simply using less energy is the first and most convenient way to shrink one’s growing carbon footprint. The question is how. How do we get people to not only realize that they’re wasting energy, but to understand the actions necessary to conserve it? A group of researchers from Canada think the answer might be right in the palm of our hands. Or our pockets.

A paper recently published in the International Journal of Sustainable Energy suggests that smartphones could be the missing link when it comes to shrinking unnecessary energy consumption. Right now, homeowners must schedule and pay for a professional to perform an energy audit. The authors say that if suitable software could be created, householders could perform their own with their smartphones.

smartphones, energy audit, energy consumption

Image via philcampbell/Flickr

Many utility companies offer deep discounts or even free energy audits to help homeowners evaluate their consumption. The problem, according to the researchers, isn’t that professional energy audits are too pricey or not effective, it’s that they don’t go far enough in outlining solutions once the problem areas are located.

Energy audits tend to focus on heating and cooling, and ignore other energy-thirsty devices, such as appliances, say the authors. When completed, suggested improvements aren’t often carried out. Residents don’t lack the ability to make the energy-saving changes the auditors suggest, ‘but the ability to recognize which changes are possible and which have the largest potential to reduce energy use’. The vast majority of homes will also never have such an audit. Enter the smartphone.

The authors envision a digital tool with which an untrained user would be able to choose their house type, energy source and payment method and input data as instructed. A smartphone could also ‘push’ users to make changes when conditions are right, for example, when a federal rebate or cheaper tariff was available.

By far the biggest advantage of the smartphone-based energy auditing system is the high potential for accelerated energy and emissions savings. In their Southern Ontario case-study area alone, the researchers estimated that it would take auditors 55 years to address all 157,000 dwellings in the traditional manner. With smartphone technology, all the homes could, in theory, be audited simultaneously saving time and precious energy.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog