Final Report: Software Framework for Enabling Innovation in Behavior-based Energy Conservation in Commercial Buildings

EPA Contract Number: EPD14020
Title: Software Framework for Enabling Innovation in Behavior-based Energy Conservation in Commercial Buildings
Investigators: Shunturov, Vladislav
Small Business: Lucid Design Group, Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: May 1, 2014 through April 30, 2015
Project Amount: $99,584
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Green Buildings Materials and Systems

Description:

The purpose of this research was to reduce costs and increase efficacy of applied psychological approaches to reducing energy consumption in commercial buildings. Miscellaneous electric loads (MELs) are projected to increase dramatically from 18 percent of electricity in commercial buildings in 2001 to as much as 38 percent in 2035, and new approaches to energy management in existing commercial buildings are necessary because occupants, rather than facility managers, will soon hold primary influence over the majority of electricity usage. Recent developments in psychology indicate that showing one’s energy consumption relative to peers has significant potential to save energy due to normative effects. Further, emotional appeals that use animated characters to elicit empathy have shown in early tests to significantly increase motivation to conserve resources. As for deploying normative feedback in commercial buildings, a major challenge has been the delivery mechanism—in particular, engaging, motivating and empowering individuals to conserve, even if they do not benefit economically. Web-based technologies such as Lucid Design Group, Inc.’s Building Dashboard software have shown promise in stimulating conservation behaviors in college dormitories (in one study done by our team, a direct result of the EPA P3 grant, two buildings saved 55 percent and 56 percent of electricity use). In order to initially engage building occupants and continuously sustain conservation behaviors, the company proceeded with two developments. Part one of this project was to create two Web-based animated characters tied to a real-time electricity usage Application Programming Interface (API) such that sadness is exhibited at periods of high usage as an inducement to conserve. Rapid prototyping software was developed so that experimentation with characters can be done at significantly reduced cost compared with previous methods, allowing future research to optimize the characters for greatest impact. Part two was to build a hardware/software combination of network-connected LED lights and an API of real-time electricity usage data so that the LEDs glow green (low usage), yellow (average usage) and red (high usage), providing ambient signals to building occupants. Network-connected LEDs from several manufacturers were tested and performance characteristics evaluated.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The resulting software, using the latest HTML5 standards and viewable on desktop computers, tablets and mobile devices, enabled rapid improvements in character development. The software also pairs LEDs with real-time electricity usage gathered by the system with a functioning prototype in the company's headquarters tied to its facility’s electricity use. The character configuration software allowed users to upload and manage animations with the click of a button, savings hours of labor with each iteration. To query viewers about their responses to the animated characters, a survey instrument was developed, and respondents indicated that among three characters – a polar bear, squirrel and a generic emoticon – the polar bear was the most interesting, motivating and personally meaningful, suggesting that characters that are the most engaging and initially appealing will generate the greatest response.

Conclusions:

The complementary relationship of engaging feedback followed by sustaining feedback represents a strong potential “wedge” of energy savings in commercial buildings to reduce emissions. In the future when plug loads, at the discretion of occupants rather than facility managers, dominate power usage from the electrical grid, it is critical that research in psychology is applied to achieve conservation goals. Normative approaches that use recent advancements in LEDs and Internet-based tools offer great promise. Further research and development efforts are needed to probe issues such as the optimal placement of color-changing LEDs in buildings and the relationship between exposure to empathetic characters and energy conservation behavior measured objectively among larger groups.

The commercial applications in commercial buildings are quite promising, particularly as the deployment of Internet-connected electrical submeters becomes more widespread. Educational institutions (K-12 and universities) represent Lucid Design Group, Inc.'s initial target market for the animated characters. For many years, the firm has had inquiries from prospects about purchasing LED color indicators of their consumption as a way to encourage employees to conserve; after certain refinements are made by Lucid Design Group, Inc., the company will begin offering this feature to its existing North American customer base, including schools, hospitals and Fortune 500 companies.

Supplemental Keywords:

energy efficiency, conservation, software, empathetic character, electricity, LED, commercial building

Relevant Websites:

P3 Phase I: Developing and Assessing the Impact of a Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions | Final Report
P3 Phase II:Developing and Assessing the Impact of a Socio-Technological Resource-Use Feedback System for Improving the Environmental Performance of Buildings and Institutions | Final Report

SBIR Phase II:

Using Software and Internet of Things Technology to Drive Behavioral Energy Savings in Commercial Buildings Using Building Orbs  | Final Report