What To Do This Earth Day

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

Energy Circle, a sort-of Consumer Reports for cost-effective energy efficient gadgetry, announced a new project today that I find absolutely fascinating.

We have been monitoring our home energy use for several months now, using our preferred whole house energy monitor TED, The Energy Detective. With Earth Day 09 as our starting point, we are going to make our electricity use public on EnergyCircle. We have adapted the TED to make it capable of streaming our household's data directly to the Internet. (A somewhat sophisticated hack inspired in part by Limor Fried and Phillip Torrone's Tweet-A-Watt. We'll open source it in the next day or so).

What I love most about this, is that the building in question isn't the sort of green industry "House of Tomorrow" thing that bears more resemblance to Epcot Center than to the places you or I live now. By following Energy Circle's data, you'll see how the average American home uses energy, and you'll see the changes in energy use that happen (or don't happen) when the bloggers try out new energy-saving ideas and products. In fact, they're not just posting all this data, they're annotating it. You'll know whether that spike in use is their dryer or their hot water heater. And you'll know what was going on behind-the-scenes to cause a dip in use.

But, beyond being a really cool experiment, does this matter? Hell, yeah. What you'll be seeing at Energy Circle is a living example of how consumer awareness of energy use cuts consumer energy use. And that's a big, fat, hairy deal. According to the DOE, electricity use in one average single-family home accounts for more CO2 emissions than two average cars. Studies have found that monitoring home energy use, and giving the people who live there access to that information, can end up cutting use by anywhere between 5-to-15%---and those reductions connect directly back to the amount of CO2 being pumped into the air.

Very zippy stuff, indeed.