Power Down - PennOrb

February 5, 2016

Making electricity visible. That’s the aim of the student-run PennOrb, a startup launched by Penn students two years ago to “help you save energy by showing how you use energy”. We caught up with PennOrb’s ambitious founder, Jason Choi, to discuss PennOrb and the future of energy conservation.


Green Campus Partnership: What do you think is the main challenge facing energy conservation on campus?

Jason Choi: The biggest challenge is making people care about energy conservation. You can’t really see the effect [of energy conservation] right away; energy always feels foreign. So we [PennOrb] try to make energy feel as intimate as possible, make people feel personally obligated to make a change.


GCP: So what is PennOrb and how is it helping people reduce their energy consumption?

Jason: PennOrb is an energy indicator that shows how much energy people on campus, and more specifically within individual buildings, are using. If it glows green you’re using less energy than expected, if it glows red, you’re using more than expected. When people walk past the orb they don’t necessarily need all the information [about the energy consumption levels], they just need a peek of the color, red or green. The colour signals to them to conserve. We’re trying to change people’s habits by publicizing their energy habits to everyone on campus.


 GCP: PennOrb was involved in the Power Down Challenge last year. What did you do and how did it change energy habits?

Jason: We implemented the orb inside Harrison. We put two orbs side by side, one for Rodin and one for Harrison. A year before, Harrison was the [house in previous Power Down competitions] that performed the worst, and after putting in the Orb Harrison became one of the best on campus. We wanted to know how attributable that success is to PennOrb, so we sent out a survey to Harrison residents asking them about the impact PennOrb had on their energy consumption habits. And we found out that a lot of people knew about PennOrb and did indeed change their energy behaviors because of it.


GCP: What’s next for PennOrb?

Jason: Our main challenge is data infrastructure, the metering and time-lag. We need to have real-time data to make the biggest difference. We just launched a team at the London School of Economics to use the real-time data they have in place to launch an Orb project. They actually just secured funding for the project. We want to see how real-time data makes the Orb even more powerful.


Next time you see a glowing orb, think twice about your energy!

For more on PennOrb, visit

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