Nearly a year ago, 400 Denver residents and city employees had their vehicles rigged with greenhouse gas-tracking systems in order to find out whether online feedback regarding how idling, sudden braking and rapid acceleration increase carbon dioxide emissions and fuel costs would change driving habits. Today, the preliminary results are in: Participating drivers have cut idling by more than 35 percent and reduced emissions by 10 percent.
Slated to conclude in March, the pilot program got funding from the Denver subsidiary of EnCana Corp. (s ECA). The Canadian oil and gas company said last year that it would spend about $400,000 on the “Driving Change” program, and it turned to California-based Enviance Inc. for measuring emissions. Communication equipment — an accelerometer and a modem for communicating data to drivers’ online dashboards — came from Denver’s Cartasite Inc., which makes GPS systems for the oil and gas industry.
All three companies have touted the test as a great success, although the results fall short of original goals: EnCana said last year that it hoped to see emissions drop by twice as much, since aggressive driving decreases fuel efficiency by about 20 percent. While not insignificant — the reported reductions could deliver annual fuel savings of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for large fleets — the results could prove even more disappointing after Denver’s cold winter months, when drivers are more inclined to idle vehicles.
Even so, Denver’s program has important implications for the future of information technology in the auto industry. Just as the digital interface of the Prius encourages drivers to seek more efficient habits (many report one-person competitions for maximum fuel economy), digital trackers like the one devised for Driving Change can provide drivers with information to help them make better choices. It’s not rocket science. But it is the underlying tenant of the information technology industry, as well as the growing market for in-home energy management software: provide the tools, and people will use them.