Here’s what might be an ingenious idea, as reported by Wired:

Mark Martinez couldn’t get Southern California Edison customers to conserve energy. As the utility’s manager of program development, he had tried alerting them when it was time to dial back electricity use on a hot day — he’d fire off automated phone calls, zap text messages, send emails. No dice.

Then he saw an Ambient Orb. It’s a groovy little ball that changes color in sync with incoming data — growing more purple, for example, as your email inbox fills up or as the chance of rain increases. Martinez realized he could use Orbs to signal changes in electrical rates, programming them to glow green when the grid was underused — and, thus, electricity cheaper — and red during peak hours when customers were paying more for power. He bought 120 of them, handed them out to customers, and sat back to see what would happen.

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Within weeks, Orb users reduced their peak-period energy use by 40 percent. Why? Because, Martinez explains, the glowing sphere was less annoying and more persistent than a text alert. “It’s nonintrusive,” he says. “It has a relatively benign effect. But when you suddenly see your ball flashing red, you notice.”

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And Clive Thompson, author of the piece, has his own crazy idea:

How about making our energy use visible to everyone? Imagine if your daily consumption were part of your Facebook page — and broadcast to your friends by RSS feed. That would trigger what Ambient Devices CEO David Rose calls the sentinel effect: You’d work harder to conserve so you don’t look like a jackass in front of your peers.

Cool. Now where do I sign up for my orb?

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