Designing a Better Energy Consumption Indicator


Erik Hinterbichler


Traditionally, research in energy conservation has fallen within the domains of environmental science and psychology. However, as a field, HCI has the potential to contribute new and innovative methods for energy conservation through the use of persuasive interfaces and enhanced computer-based feedback. One such area in which HCI can contribute to energy conservation is in interfaces for residential energy consumption indicators, or ECIs. We reviewed over 40 studies in environmental science and psychology on the effects of energy consumption feedback in the home. From this review, we created a theoretical framework in the form of seven design heuristics to provide guidance for the next generation of ECIs. We then implemented a fully functional prototype of an ECI interface that satisfies these heuristics, and performed an initial pilot study to better understand its effectiveness at changing consumption behavior.


Research suggests that people are ignorant of how much energy they are using and how much energy various appliances use. Energy consumption indicators (or ECIs) are designed to remedy this problem. They reveal energy consumption behavior in the hopes that people will learn through feedback when they are needlessly using energy and will decrease their usage accordingly.

While the concept behind ECIs is reasonable, the effectiveness of existing devices is limited by poor execution. Specifically, we believe the interfaces of most ECIs do not adhere to HCI principles and are deficient in their current forms. Furthermore, by applying concepts from existing psychological and environmental science literature, we can provide heuristics for what should be included in these interfaces to maximize their potential for changing people's energy consumption behavior.

Existing ECIs
Some Existing ECIs. A) A typical home energy monitor. B) Electrisave. C) Kill A Watt. D) Wood and Newborough's electric cooker ECI. E) Power Aware Cord.


There is potential to utilize the Internet to greatly enhance community comparisons. Mankoff proposed leveraging rapidly growing social networks like Facebook and MySpace to facilitate this comparison. Such approaches could enable users to compare themselves not just with other users in their neighborhood or nearby regions, but potentially users all over the world. In addition, comparisons could be even more effective if they occurred within a group of strong ties. The added social guilt and peer pressure that comes from a close circle of friends could yield more effective comparative feedback than simple monthly comparisons with strangers.

ECI interface screenshot
Screenshot of our enhanced ECI interface, with multiple levels of goal-based feedback (realtime, cumulative, and community).


Hinterbichler, Erik. Designing a Better Energy Consumption Indicator Interface for the Home. MS Thesis. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.