Dashboard helps workers understand their electricity use

One of the benefits of living on campus or through Carnegie Mellon housing is that you never have to worry about your electricity bill. Unfortunately, you are probably unaware of how much energy you’re using and may be unknowingly wasting a lot of energy. Ray Yun, a Ph.D. candidate in the computational design program in the School of Architecture, has developed an Intelligent Dashboard that allows employees to see how much energy they use at work in hopes that they will consequently reduce their energy use.

The members of Yun’s team include Vivian Loftness, a current architecture professor and former head of the School of Architecture; Azizan Aziz, Bertrand Lasternas, and Chenlu Zhang, researchers in the School of Architecture’s Center for Building Performance & Diagnostics; Peter Scupelli, assistant professor in the School of Design; and Yunjeong Mo and Jie Zhao, graduate students in the School of Architecture.

Yun emphasized that many projects in the Center for Building Performance & Technology are a collaboration between individuals from many different disciplines, such as engineering, computer science, and human-computer interaction. The group is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy-Efficient Buildings Hub.

“The motivation of this project is that typical office workers don’t get the electricity bill, so they don’t know how much energy they consume at work,” said Yun. “They also don’t pay the electricity bill, so they have no incentive to put effort into saving energy at work.” The research team wanted to explore if there was an effective way to not only help employees understand how much energy they use at work, but also to help them manage their consumption at work in a way that can benefit the environment.

The Intelligent Dashboard is an online application that is used with a meter manufactured by Plugwise that measures electricity usage, as well as allows for remote control of the electricity. The main features of the dashboard are a graphical representation of the real-time usage of each of your electrical devices (such as laptops, monitors, and phones), a color-coded rating of the effectiveness of your electricity usage for each device, and recommendations for how to reduce your electricity usage based on your current habits. There are also on-off switches in the application that allow users to control their devices remotely. “So if you are at home and you realize that you forgot to turn off your light at work, you can still control it remotely,” said Yun.

There is also a calendar feature that allows the user to tell the system when to turn specific devices on and off. “The feature gives you a calendar, and you can make a weekly schedule on it. Based on this schedule, the system will turn devices on and off, instead of the user doing it,” explained Yun. Another feature allows the user to see the impact that their behavior will have on the scale of the entire company. It shows the costs and savings to the entire organization that would result if every employee in the building behaved in the same way as the user.

To see how the Intelligent Dashboard can impact the energy consumption within a real company, Yun’s group conducted a study on 80 employees at a major Pittsburgh corporation that uses Plugwise products. The employees were divided into four groups, each of which had different versions of the dashboard. “The first group doesn’t have the control and the calendar; they only have the informational strategy. The second group doesn’t have the calendar but they have everything else. The third group has everything, and the fourth group was not introduced to the dashboard,” explained Yun.

Before the dashboard was introduced, the research group collected 14 weeks of baseline data to understand the typical electricity usage of the company. After that, there was a 13-week system deployment of the dashboard. There was then a third phase during which the dashboard was removed — this occurred about a month ago — to see if the savings which occurred during the dashboard implementation phase persisted.

They found that the group with only informational strategy showed a 13 percent decrease in energy usage, the group which only lacked the calendar showed a 25 percent decrease, and the group with the full dashboard had a 38 percent decrease.

According to Yun, if every individual in the company behaved like those in the group with 38 percent energy savings, the company would save 70 thousand dollars a year. “And this is only for individual devices,” said Yun. “If we consider common devices like the printer or kitchen devices, there will be an even bigger impact.”