Energy demand is growing across many countries in the world as populations increase and people get richer. In fact, global energy consumption has risen nearly every year for more than half a century.
Recently the European Union simplified its energy label on household products. It now has a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient), replacing the current classes from A+++ to D. The label was introduced 25 years ago. In an EU-wide survey in 2019, 79% of consumers confirmed that it influenced their buying.
Public awareness about the amount of energy consumed is crucial for boosting savings. Digital technologies may also lend a helping hand, but many people who are not familiar with smart tools, feel lost and don’t use them.
To remedy this, the EU project eTEACHER is developing a user-friendly app based on people's feedback. It is now being tested in Romania, Spain and the UK. As the project's scientists wanted to collect reactions from a wide ranging audience, the app has been rolled out in residential buildings, offices, schools and health centres.
"The app receives two sets of input. The first set relates to energy data from the buildings. A series of sensors gets information about illumination, air-conditioning, temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and radiation, amongst others," explains Francisco Javier Márquez Pocostales, a researcher working on the project in the Spanish region of Extremadura. "The other set of input involves the users and their comfort levels", he continues. "Based on these two inputs, the app establishes a series of recommendations to improve their behaviour, save energy and reduce CO2 emissions, while also improving user wellbeing."
Energy monitoring systems and software are already on the market. However, eTEACHER wanted to go one step further, with tailored advice for the users. In a first phase the researchers investigated needs and wishes from the people living in the demonstration buildings, and went through the literature on behaviour. They then designed the tool, which is a “work in progress”.
"The project is innovative in that the app draws on artificial intelligence to learn from users' habits, which enables it to provide customised guidance," says Márquez.
Alberto Durán Rey works in the OAR (Organismo Autónomo de Recaudación) administrative office in Badajoz, and is one of the people who are testing the app. He says: "We can check energy consumption data and receive advice. Actually, we have noticed that we have become more conscious about energy savings. The app is easy to use. It is very intuitive."
To enhance user engagement, the tool also uses gamification. There are several missions to save energy, and users can compete with their neighbours. The results are shown by the app's ranking.
The researchers are now analysing the first results. “Depending on the building type, the season, and the time of day, we have observed energy savings between 5 and 30%,” says Márquez.
However, the researchers must factor in the Covid-19 pandemic. "Of course, we have seen higher energy consumption in residential buildings as people have spent more time at home in lockdown. Therefore, the energy savings were not as high as expected," adds Márquez. “In other building types, such as schools, offices or health centres the improvement was more evident, even if often windows had to be kept open to maintain the ventilation and avoid the contagion, thus making the comfort level more difficult to achieve.”
Durán says: “We had energy savings even if many colleagues were working from home. In fact, fewer people were in the office but we had to turn on almost all lights and computers.”
It will be interesting to compare these results with the data from the current period where Covid-19 restrictions are easing thanks to the vaccination campaign. The eTEACHER tests have involved 5,204 people from the pilot buildings.
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