Dashboards showing household energy consumption have so far never really caught on. Now however a pioneering US-based company has created a way of displaying this information in an attractive family context.

The digital photo frame is a device that displays in your living-room memorable moments in your family life that you want to show off to everyone. Now imagine that in among these cherished memories the frame displays information on the amount of electricity you’re using and shows you how your next electricity bill may look. This is the highly unusual approach developed by California startup Ceiva Energy. Starting from the observation that the dashboards and other tools currently on the market have all failed to catch on – either because they’re too expensive or because the consumer just doesn’t find the technology very appealing – the young company has come up with the idea of adapting this commonly-used device in order to encourage householders to make monitoring their electricity consumption more of a priority.

Family photos mingled with contextualised energy data

At first sight the photo frame is a very ordinary piece of kit. It has an eight-inch screen and you can upload photos on to it in the normal way. However, using the Ceiva Energy Homeview Display technology, it receives real-time energy consumption data from your home smart meter and displays it every 90 seconds. And rather than posting a table, graph or long list of data that might cause information overload and simply confuse the customer, the Homeview system summarises the energy data in just two or three really meaningful figures. For instance, in addition to an estimate of the bill for the current month, the frame displays power price information not in kilowatt hours but simply in cents per hour. “This difference is crucial,” argues Ceiva Energy CEO Dean Schiller, “because people largely don’t understand or care about what the term ‘kilowatt-hour’ actually means.”

Proven efficiency

Working with a number of energy suppliers provides Ceiva Energy with opportunities to carry out useful surveys. The company has just announced the results of a survey it conducted with 72 customers of Glendale Water & Power in Southern California who enrolled in a pilot project that began in late 2012. The survey showed that 88% of these customers liked the way that Ceiva Energy presented the data and the energy saving tips it provides. Schiller also points out that “the display and energy data also prompted over 83% of them to think about what caused a rise in their energy use.” Rather than rely on early adopters or technophiles to popularise the Homeview system and get the message out to consumers, Ceiva Energy is looking to expand through partnerships with power and gas utilities in several US states. Given the pressure from the Federal authorities to encourage energy savings, utility firms may see in this connected photo frame a means of engaging with their customers and inspiring them to take greater care over energy consumption by offering a user experience which is pleasant and easy-to-use.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo