Building Energy Technology: Designing Interfaces for Home Energy Users

Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems

An interface layout in progress.

Project Motivation

Providing visual feedback to consumers on their energy use through home energy management (HEM) products has been accepted as an effective way to achieve energy savings. However, HEM products cover a variety of media and device types, all of which may have present different types of information and offer different levels of design. Fraunhofer CSE set out to identify how user preferences for various designs and across different presentation media may affect their likelihood of adoption.


Building a Better Interface

CSE's Energy Management team profiled 50 early adopters (median age=35, range 21-67, 74% homeowner) using an online survey.  Early adopters were picked because they tend to be consumers that are self-motivated to seek out new technologies.  Product researchers and developers often look to this type of group to see how a new product or idea works.


CSE researchers asked participants about their preferred features of HEM, and also collected “usability ratings” for 12 HEM systems across three presentation media (4 HEDs, 4 web portals, and 4 smartphone applications). These ratings broke down into three questions:  Is it nice to look at? Is it understandable?  Do you want to explore more? In addition, the team also asked participants how long they were willing to use each system. This “length of use” data served as a loose metric of technology adoption. 


Success Through Multi-Media

Preliminary results indicate that consumers may be more interested in energy education than cost and bill prediction. We also found that adoption is more likely to be successful when other multimedia is offered.  


Overall,  findings suggest that real-time energy displays need to further improve interface intuitiveness and flexibility while keeping costs low. People won’t become regular users of HEM products until we understand more about the most effective ways to visualize energy information and make it motivating. User-centered design may help to make home energy management (HEM) technologies more effective, and approaches to residential energy management that provide multimedia options are the most likely to be successful.