Race for Fuel Efficiency
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008
Katie Sebastian accuses her friend Evan Hirsche of getting better mileage than she does because he lives in Bethesda and has flatter everyday trips than she encounters in hilly Takoma Park. She suspects the Hirsche family of taking frequent long drives out of town, which also helps them.
“They claim they haven’t been out of town in a while,” she said, “but I know they have.”
Hirsche retorts: “It is well known that Katie is a lead-footer.”
Their friendly rivalry stems from the Prius effect. Both drive a Prius, the Toyota hybrid with an elaborate dashboard monitor that constantly informs drivers how many miles per gallon they are getting and whether the engine is running on battery or gasoline power. That can change driving in startling ways, making drivers conscious of their driving habits, then adjusting them to compete for better mileage. (Sebastian has 41 mpg, Hirsche 43.)
The Prius, and other hybrids with similar displays, has triggered on-the-spot learning that has the potential to change energy-consumption habits. The implications go far beyond the family car, with new devices for the home offering ways to encourage significant change in energy use.
“Once you start making fuel consumption more visible, you have something that comes to the forefront of people’s minds instead of lurking in the background,” said Sarah Darby, a researcher who studies energy feedback technologies at the University of Oxford‘s Environmental Change Institute. The monitors “show the consequences of your actions,” she says. “This gives you feedback that alters actions, and encourages you to try and improve things.”