Taking energy saving out of the dark ages

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to greater efficiency is the difficulty of visualizing energy flows. The amount of power consumed by modern electrical appliances is often hard to grasp and thus conveniently easy to ignore.

Pilgrim Beart, founder of AlertMe, would like to change that. He aims to make energy consumption a more tangible thing, to try to make it easier to trim.

At the VERGE conference in London, Beart was intent on illustrating his argument with what looked like the preparations for a record-breaking juggling attempt. Holding up one of the hundreds of brightly colored balls he brought on stage, Beart said, "Each of these balls represents the power to run a modern light bulb for six hours."

Into a large bucket Beart tossed 13 balls -- corresponding to the energy used to light an average home. "That's less than we were using a few years ago, due to energy-saving bulbs," he noted.

Another 13 balls bounced into the bucket for the refrigerator and freezer -- again, better than a decade ago due to more efficient products -- plus six more for computers and gadgets. A further 19 balls represented TVs and games consoles. "It would be fewer if they weren't so often left on standby," he said.

Four more balls for every time the oven warms up, two for every kettle boiled and one for every microwave meal created a rather full bucket, which brimmed further with the addition of 10 balls per hot-water wash or three balls for every cool cycle in the washing machine.

The bucket was put to one side as Beart hoisted aloft a net crammed with 110 balls. "That's showers and baths," he announced, emphasizing the high-energy cost of hot water. "Simply changing the shower head in my home has saved £400 [about $630] per year."

And then the final net was dragged onto the stage: a jiggling mass of 350 balls, showing the energy used to keep the average home at a comfortable temperature every day.