City hires spy plane to map which houses are wasting energy

Dig this: The city council of Haringey in the UK hired a spy plane to fly overhead and identify which households are wasting the most energy — to try and shame them into turning their heat down. As the Times reports:

An aircraft, fitted with a military-style thermal imager, flew over the borough 17 times to take pictures of almost every house in the area.

Footage of heat loss was converted into stills, then laid over a map of the area, before each house was given colour-coded ratings.

Homes that were losing the most heat were represented as bright red on the map. The least wasteful households were shown in deep blue. Shades of paler blues and reds were used to show grades of heat loss.

Then they put the map online, so that Haringey residents could see whether they lived next to an energy hog. Here’s the web site of the company that makes the heat surveys; check out the survey they did of the British Houses of Parliament, too.

I was fascinated by this because I mentioned this idea, quite by coincidence, at the end of my column for the July issue of Wired. I was writing about how “ambient information” can help us reduce our energy consumption by making visible the patterns of our personal energy usage. At the end of the column, I speculated on a fun idea: What would happen if everyone openly published their personal energy usage on their Facebook page, or in an RSS feed? I argued that what psychologists call the “sentinel effect” would take over — we tend to behave better when our peers are scrutinizing our behavior — and we’d all start conserving even more energy.

Mind you, I think this would only work if was done voluntarily. I’m not sure people would be too keen about having their houses surveyed by a plane, heh.

(Thanks to Simon Winter for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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