As energy-conscious citizens, wouldn’t it be great to know the best (and cheapest) times to use more or less energy? Thanks to a clever little gadget and an equally clever manager at the Southern California Edison power company, that info could easily be at your fingertips with the Energy Orb.

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Southern California Edison power station manager Mark Martinez was looking for a way to get his customers to use less energy, and repeated automated text messages, emails and phone calls were not doing the trick. Then he hit upon the Ambient Orb, a glowing globe that changes color to represents changes in streaming data (weather, stock prices, etc). With a simple hack, Mark hooked the Ambient Orb up to his local grid, and created the Energy Orb, a device to visualize current grid load, and the relative price of electricity at any given moment.

In Martinez’s Energy Orb, the light pulses red when energy costs are high and glows green when they’re lower. Not only did Mark pioneer this brilliant idea, but he went one step further, and purchased 120 Ambient Orb globes to hand out to his customers….

The result was an impressive 40% reduction in energy use for those customers with the energy orb!

To what can we attribute this amazing success? Martinez thinks its because the glowing sphere is constantly communicating with you — its more persistent, and simply less annoying than a text alert or email (both approaches he had tried, unsuccessfully). “It’s nonintrusive,” he says. “It has a relatively benign effect. But when you suddenly see your ball flashing red, you notice.”

Electricity is essentially invisible, which is why we waste so much of it in the home — leaving re-chargers permanently plugged in sucking up vampire power, and electronic devices idling in power-slurping “sleep” modes. We can’t see that our houses account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s energy appetite; we don’t know when the grid is nearing capacity and expensive to use.

So this new hacked Energy Orb is great idea, and very similar in concept to the DIY Kyoto Wattson, an energy-monitoring device which we have covered before at Inhabitat. It doesn’t look like just anyone can create an Energy Orb just yet — as you’d need Martinez’s hacking skills and the streaming data from your utility company to be able to program it. We’re wondering, though, if it’s possible for the average Joe Ambient Orb owner to figure it out. If anyone wishes to create their own Energy Orb, and knows how to do it, please, drop us a line! Some of us here have our own Ambient Orbs and want to turn them Energy Orbs ASAP.

Interestingly enough, Ambient Devices, the company behind the orb, has a similar product that does just what Martinez’s hack did, known as the EnergyJoule. Look for a bit more info on it here at Inhabitat in the near future.

+ The Ambient Orb + Clive Thompson: Desktop Orb Could Reform Energy Hogs

+ DIY Kyoto Wattson + EnergyJoule