By Barbara Kessler

First there was the Orb, a space-age ball that glowed green during calm financial times but burned red when our portfolio joule_meter.jpgwas tanking. Now, a group is taking the concept of a color-coded message that visually and unobtrusively alerts us to trouble into the realm of energy consumption.

Consumer Powerline is testing its plug-in device called The Energy Joule that would tap into a home’s power supplier to register when power demand is low, medium or high. When energy usage is at peak for the region, the ball would glow red; if a power crisis is imminent (and the power company sees it coming) the ball would pulse red and give a countdown to the “event.” So just like Captain Kirk leaping at the sound of the Starship’s buzzing alarms, you could spring into action. Instead of shooting aliens, though, you’d dash toward the appliances and turn off the dryer and the dishwasher, thereby reducing your energy use just in time, and relieving stress on the grid.

The Energy Joule, being tested in New York City, with hopes of being on the market by the end of 2008, purposely doesn’t offer an audible component. Consumer Powerline believes that a gentle, ever-present and simple signal will work best to goad humans into action. That’s the concept that seems to work for the $99.99 Orb, which tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average and can be set to follow other stock indices. The Orb’s developer, the aptly named Ambient Devices (which also sells an umbrella that glows when its supposed to rain among other weather gizmos) will distribute The Energy Joule through a partnership with Consumer Powerline.

In addition to tapping into the current green consciousness, the Joule is looks forward to a time when power companies may reward consumers who use less energy at peak times, a practice of “time sensitive” billing that’s already being tested in California and Chicago, according to the Joule’s project manager Dr. Humphrey Wong.

So people could respond to their Joule out of concern for the environment (reduce demand and maybe your power company won’t try to build another nasty coal-fired plant) or because it will save them on their electric bill. “Even if people are not on a time sensitive program, they will want to do the right thing,” Dr. Wong said. “But if they are on a time sensitive program, they’ll do the rational thing.”

(A joule, by the way, is a measurement of work done or energy expended applied to electricity or mechanical efforts.)

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media