If you have a Twitter account, you know what "followers" are. They're people who are signed up to receive your Twitter status updates -- important messages like "I'm going grocery shopping" or "I'm in line at the movies"-- that you send to your Twitter account via Internet-connected computer or cell phone. With Tweet-A-Watt, those Twitter followers also receive updates on your energy-consumption status. The updates are sent not by you, but by your energy monitor.
The folks behind Tweet-A-Watt believe that publication of energy consumption data will encourage both an increased sensitivity to one's own wasteful behaviors, because other people can see them, and some friendly rivalry that could get people trying to outdo each other on energy savings.
It's a pretty solid argument. People do tend to behave differently when others are watching. (How often do you pick your nose in public versus in private?) And we can just look at the Prius "hypermilers" for an example of what happens when like-minded individuals suddenly have an easy way to measure their success. Using the in-dash Prius mileage calculator, drivers have been known to achieve well beyond the car's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mileage rating while attempting to beat their own and their friends' mileage records [source: Washington Post].
And Tweet-A-Watt makes it even easier to share conservation results than the Prius mileage calculator, because it's Internet-connected. You don't even have to make a phone call to let your friends know you decreased your energy consumption by 10 percent over the previous day. Or that you tweaked your entertainment system and now it's more efficient than theirs. That information is delivered automatically via Twitter. It works like this:
You attach a networking device to a Kill A Watt. That device reads the energy monitor's power data and sends it wirelessly to a computer (or Internet-connected microcontroller). The computer then sends your data to Twitter for all your followers to see.
That's once you set it up, though. Tweet-A-Watt isn't an off-the-shelf gadget. It's a tweak on an off-the-shelf gadget. You have to make it yourself, with a Kill-A-Watt, some software and a few additional parts like capacitors and resistors. And be prepared -- there's soldering involved.
On the next page, we'll take a look at what you need to do to build a Tweet-A-Watt.