Pecan Street in Austin is a living laboratory for the future of energy
When a company wonders about how consumers will respond to a new idea, they have a few options. First, they can guess—invent it or build it and pray that people will come. They can also let the crowd weigh in—platforms like Kickstarter can test the waters by seeing if an inventor’s concept has legs before it goes into production. With Kickstarter, support from the online community can fund production, leading to successful new products like the LunaTik Nano watch and dozens of other new products. There’s also the option of “social product development” with platforms like Quirky.com. Social product development lets people conceptualize the product online, with collaborations and conversations that bring an idea through to the prototype stage. If the ideas are popular with potential customers (and other inventors), the product comes to life, influenced by the tweaks and reconfigurations that were inspired by the community.
Then there’s Pecan Street, a live community in Austin, Texas where real people live their normal, daily lives. Under a sort of microscope. With companies like GM/OnStar, Intel, Sun, Oracle, Landis Gear, Sony, Best Buy, Texas Natural Gas, LG Electronics, Landis + Gyr, Lockheed, Oncor, and Whirlpool watching. The goal is to design a new ecosystem of energy use based on conservation, innovative rethinking of products like home appliances, automobiles, as well as buildings themselves (like LEED platinum hospitals and green office complexes). And the 1,000 plus residents of a community built on the grounds of what had been the Mueller airport, have signed up to be studied, monitored, and observed.
I talked with Brewster McCracken, the Executive Director of Pecan Street, who described their approach. “As a country, we’ve been wrestling with what the killer apps are in the area of clean energy and sustainability, but our thinking was largely based on theory. Plus, decisions were being made in silos—consumers and companies didn’t Continue Reading…