Impact Journalism Day - Solutions to global issues - 2017
Can cats teach us to conserve energy?
Cats have more hidden talents than just starring in YouTube videos and Instagram photos. Our feline friends can also teach us to conserve energy.
At least that's what a group of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia believe. They are leading a project that teaches families how to live in a more sustainable way, all thanks to a video game called EnergyCat: The House of Tomorrow.
This same group of researchers launched the EnerGAware project in February of 2015. The main objective is to teach families living in social housing developments how to save energy in their homes using a video game whose protagonist is a pussycat. The interface is similar to The Sims, a well-known social simulation video game, and it has a system by which the user only advances once they successfully complete missions related to energy efficiency.
Close to 550 people in the British city of Plymouth filled out surveys about their energy consumption. Among them, 237 were interested in participating and 100 were chosen to receive a tablet with the application already installed and ready to play. The other half who aren't participating in the game will still have their consumption monitored in the same way as the playing households to compare and reveal if there are any real savings as a result of the game. Researchers also analyzed the energy costs from the previous year when they weren't playing the game. "Now that we have compiled and analyzed the initial results, we can conclude that in the first three months there was a reduction of 7% in consumption," says Miquel Casals, research coordinator.
The game rewards actions as simple as turning off lights and provides information on more complex issues such as choosing an energy-efficient oven. "Our idea was to make it fun. The protagonist is a cat and he fixes things that the family could be doing better, consumption of energy-wise," says Casals. Participating families gave their opinions during focus groups on issues such as the appearance of the houses in the game: "They chose Victorian homes because that is what is most relevant for them." The application also poses specific challenges depending on the time of the year. For example, it challenges players to reduce consumption at Christmas time by decorating their tree with low-energy bulbs. "When you do something that wastes energy like leaving a lamp on, it's placed in red. Hover your cursor over the lamp and you get information about how you can better save energy." Those playing the game can also "compete" with fellow participating neighbors and share their consumption scores on social media.
Participating households are not required to play each day nor is there a minimum daily interaction requirement. Smart energy meter data sensors installed for the study allow researchers to monitor their progress, whatever it is. The study will continue until the end of the year, and starting in January 2018, the team will be able to start analyzing the complete data set.
The anticipated outcome is that the participants will internalize notions about their energy consumption, comfort and the financial cost of their actions. It is an initiative with a budget of 2 million euros and is funded by the European Union. One of the project's partners is EDF Energy, who provides service to over 38 million customers throughout Europe.