Karma Kettles

The Karma kettles are part of an effort to use design to explore the social impacts of algorithmic transactions within decentralised systems of energy generation and consumption. In contrast to traditional centralised national grids, distributed systems allow for smaller enterprises and households to produce and sell energy in a free market economy. They are supported by technologies such as blockchains, smart contracts and programmable batteries, and enable more flexible energy production, distribution and trade, which are often considered key to support wider adoption of renewable energy sources.

The kettles were designed to elicit reactions towards potential outcomes of these systems, discussing people’s expectations of control, including but not limited to types, levels and instruments of control in automated transactions. They are connected kettles that purport to store and distribute energy in a network. In this context, they can store and carry out transactions (push/pull) that distribute energy to a group of users. Users can see the state of the local and storage networks, choosing to use (boil), pull (store) or push (give) energy into the grid. The kettles then reward users according to the state of the grid, and their actions can contribute to their energy “karma” positively or negatively. The devices can be switched between manual and autonomous modes which support understanding of preferences to different levels of control.

The kettles have been used in public engagement workshops at exhibitions and with groups of residents in a large block of flats in Edinburgh. Interviews with participant groups reveal the potential for IoT devices to support end-consumer energy trade and bottom-up energy generation which could help to support a transition to more sustainable sources of energy. Insights will help inform best practices for future applications and governance of the algorithmically mediated energy transactions.

Karma Kettles set up as an energy balancing game at the Living with the Internet of Things event at the TATE Modern in London, UK

The project was funded through the EPSRC PETRAS IoT in the Home demonstrator, led by Dr. Larissa Pschetz, designed and developed by Billy Dixon and Esteban Serrano. Participant studies were carried out by Dr Luis Soares.