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The ripple effect of Smarter Energy: IBM's Chale success story steps into Be The Start spotlight

IBM is set to showcase its involvement in energy conservation and community-building projects in Chale, Isle of Wight, as part of the Be The Start sustainability campaign.

The month-long environmental awareness drive is jointly organised by Start UK and Business In The Community, and features a range of leading organisations, each of which takes centre stage for a day in May to highlight its green initiatives.

Global technology giant IBM steps into the spotlight on 14 May as a focal point of 'More Vibrant Communities' week and will highlight its work in Chale, a village and civil parish on the south coast of Isle of Wight.

"The reason why a lot of people are really interested in Chale is the way it sets an example," commented Bill Sullivan, marketing lead for IBM's Smart Cities and Smart Energy projects.

Back in 2009, Chale was selected to receive government funding to become one of the UK's first low-carbon communities. Subsequently, IBM linked up with local groups like the Chale Project and the South Wight Housing Association (part of the Southern Housing Group) to help implement a range of renewable technology and home energy monitoring solutions.

The initial goal of the project, according to IBM Master Inventor and Chale resident Professor Andy Stanford-Clark, was to "help residents understand their energy use better" as well as to introduce renewable energy sources like solar PV panels and air-source heat pumps.

IBM helped to feed information gathered through the newly-installed energy monitoring devices to a cloud-hosted data centre, where it was distilled into easy-to-understand graphs and charts that home owners could access. The result, said Stanford-Clark, was that residents had access to simple "actionable recommendations" that were "completely different from getting a quarterly electricity bill shoved through the door."

According to Vince Ward, director of Sustainable Chale Ltd and projects officer for the South Wight Housing Association, the success of the energy conservation measures quickly created a "ripple effect" that saw the Chale project evolve into a larger experiment in the "psychology of change."

"We've opened up the mission statement to include social sustainability," Mr Ward said. "When you do something like this, you get the right people involved. People come to us now, whatever product it is. The ripple effect is still going on – simple behaviour changes, training residents to be local champions."

He added: "What I'd like to know is: what do you want to understand? What is it you feel you're not doing? Is it because it's so complicated? Is it because you just don't have the time or want other people to help you?"

Some examples of the "ripple effect" Ward gave include the halving of local bus fares to encourage the use of public transport, the creation of an allotment that has stimulated dialogue between young and old residents, and a dramatic fall in rent arrears as a result of more manageable utility bills - reductions of up to 50 per cent have been reported in Chale.

Future implementations, IBM's Stanford-Clark added, could include energy automation and "home sequencing" trials. There has even been talk of erecting a real-time display in Chale to showcase key facts about the local energy grid.

"That is the ultimate goal: to say to other communities, if you get it right, you can do these things. It's a hard, long slog – but you can get there," Ward said.

Want to learn more about Smart Energy in the community and the work being done in Chale? In conjunction with its Smarter Trends green tech site, IBM is hosting an energy efficiency Twitter Q&A on 14 May featuring many of the key figures ITProPortal spoke to regarding the Chale project.

If you want to quiz IBM Master Inventor Andy Stanford-Clark, Sustainable Chale's Vince Ward, or the Chale Project's Peter Atkinson, register you question now via the dedicated #IBMChale Smarter Trends Twitter Q&A page.

The live Smarter Trends Twitter Q&A will take place on 14 May at 15:00 BST - look out for the #IBMChale hashtag on the day, or get involved in the discussion right away.

IBM helped launch the Be The Start sustainability campaign on 30 April at its London headquarters.