Green Light on Carbon Intensity Data. Is the Green Bulb Really the Answer?

Yesterday I saw a post from National Grid here. It spoke about how you could buy a wifi enabled ‘smart bulb’. It turns green when the energy that is coming to your house or region is from greenest sources.

When I first saw it, I thought it looked really interesting. It could be an easy way to find out the best times to do the most energy consuming tasks. Though, something didn’t sit right with me and I wasn’t sure what.

The idea that part of the bulbs function is to enable users to lessen their carbon impact, while simultaneously encouraging consumerism for landfill-destined items, is in the very least unsettling.

I mulled over the idea last night and researched a little bit before coming to any conclusions. After some internet searching, I started to understand my initial unease.

Firstly, the idea that you have to purchase something new and unnecessary to get this kind of information didn’t make sense. I’m using the term unnecessary here in the sense that I don’t use smart bulbs, I don’t have other ‘smart’ appliances in my house and would never usually buy a smart bulb. I know I wouldn’t be alone in probably needing to purchase another lamp to use this bulb. The encouragement to purchase new things to get ourselves out of a Climate Emergency needs to stop.

I followed the purchasing link on the national Grid website and found the bulb there for £29.99 with £10.00 shipping. That’s £30.00 for a bulb that I don’t need that glows green, and this is the cheapest option I found. 

The cost of a Green Bulb

Wouldn’t it be better if a physical item wasn’t manufactured which will ultimately end up in landfill? Wouldn’t it be better if you could get the carbon intensity information using a device you already have? The idea that part of the bulbs function is to enable users to lessen their carbon impact, while simultaneously encouraging consumerism for landfill-destined items, is in the very least unsettling.

The accessibility of this product is reduced significantly by the cost. This information should be accessible to everyone, not just thosse who can afford to spend £30.00 on a lightbulb and maybe a new lamp. That could be someone’s weekly food budget. This suggests to me that people on lower incomes wouldn’t be able to buy the item and would then miss out on this information. But I found that there are ways to find this information, for free.

A screenshot from the Carbon Intensity website

The bulb is powered by Carbon Intensity API which is a forecasting tool, a bit like a weather forecast. It looks through the next 48 hours, estimates the carbon output, checks it’s data and does it all again.

You can visit Carbonintensity.org.uk to access this information yourself, no bulb required. It’s not the most user friendly data to look at and I didn’t understand some of it. This is where the bulb’s simplicity is beneficial. It uses this data and shows you that your energy is greenest, right now. The problem is that sometimes these lower carbon ‘greeneer hours’ are at unsociable times. I don’t know about you but i’m not going to see a light glowing at 5am, no matter how green it is.

On my searches I found an app called Greener Hours. It basically does what the bulb does but in app form. You click the app to see your greenest hours for your region and then a simple graph. It’s user friendly and easy to understand. Oh and it’s free.

A screenshot of the Greener Hours app. This is the graph for today showing the fluctuating carbon intensity for my region.

Some of the app is still in development, like earning points by pledging to use appliances at certain times of the day.  I found the appliance list a bit too short, but I guess they’ve gone for the most used and highest carbon appliances in a general household. 

In conculsion, I find the possibility of further developments around the carbon intensity data really exciting. I like the way the bulb is an easy way to show this information to users.  However I don’t think buying a bulb that turns green is the amazing piece of technology it’s being marketed as. I don’t appreciate being backhandedly encouraged to buy more to reduce my carbon output. The cost is also too high to enable everyone access to this potentiallty useful tool. I think there are ways to use our existing poducts to find this information out, like by using the Greener Hours app for instance. The Carbon Intensity API is open source so I hope we will see some other companies using this tool in future developments.

Links:
https://www.nationalgrid.com/greenlightsignal?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=power-of-all

https://carbonintensity.org.uk/

https://www.greenerhours.com/

https://uk.lifx.com/collections/lamps-and-pendants/products/lifx-mini-color

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