Geeks attempt to save Power in the home

I heard about this project a while ago, and thought it was naive at the time, giving end users the ability to monitor and set their power usage #'s.  I can tell these guys are not User Interface developers.

An easy UI I would have done is have a button to turn the system on and off.  The algorithms for on and off should be modified unseen from the users.  You test whether they are willing to keep the system on and when they turn it off to override it.  Expecting millions of people to play around with a dial to set energy savings is asking too much from users to guess on what dial settings are right for them.

Keep in mind when you want your users to save energy they need a simple User Interface. Do you want to save energy? Yes or No.  Don't give them a bunch of choices that will confuse them and waste their time.

The results were written in the NY times

The homeowners could go to a Web site to set their ideal home temperature and how many degrees they were willing to have that temperature move above or below the target. They also indicated their level of tolerance for fluctuating electricity prices. In effect, the homeowners were asked to decide the trade-off they wanted to make between cost savings and comfort.

The households, it turned out, soon became active participants in managing the load on the utility grid and their own bills.

“I was astounded at times at the response we got from customers,” said Robert Pratt, a staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the program director for the demonstration project. “It shows that if you give people simple tools and an incentive, they will do this.”

And thank god, they finally figured out that the UI needed to be simpler.

After some testing with households, the scientists decided not to put a lot of numbers and constant pricing information in front of consumers. On the Web site, the consumers were presented with graphic icons to set and adjust.