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Newsletter - Volume 5 Issue 1 - January 2017

Monthly bulletin of the IEEE Computer Society Special Technical Community on Sustainable Computing

Providing quick access to timely information on sustainable computing.

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Message from the editor

Cristina Rottondi, Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence

It is my pleasure to open the January issue of the IEEE STC Newsletter with my warmest wishes to our readers for a happy, successful and fruitful 2017! This issue includes the new year message from our Chair Prof. Niklas Carlsson and a report on the outcomes of the Social Power Swiss research project. We also take the occasion to congratulate our Secretary-Treasurer Dr. Fabio Borges de Oliveira on the publication of his book on privacy preserving algorithms for metering data collection in Smart Grids!

As usual, the newsletter closes with the list of upcoming conferences and workshops in the field of sustainable computing.

New Year's Wishes from the Chair

By Niklas Carlsson, Linköping University, Sweden

At the start of 2016, I wrote a similar letter in which I stated that we are living in a “highly dynamic and quickly changing world”. While 2016 certainly was an example of that, it is also clear that we all need to continue working towards a long-term sustainable global society. With computing and communication being essential components of an effective society, I believe that our STC can play an important role here. During the year, we have heard about exciting new research and projects (based on the latest research findings) presented at various workshops and conferences, for example, but also seen the introduction of two new journals (IEEE Transaction on Sustainable Computing and IEEE Transactions on Green Communications and Networking).

We now stand at the start of another year full of opportunities and challenges. With this letter, I would like to wish you all, members and non-members, good luck in grabbing the best opportunities and conquering all your challenges, but also to invite you to share your goals, findings, contributions, and efforts with the rest of the community through our newsletter. As a means to help bring our community together and inform of recent events, we frequently try to publish workshop and conference summaries, for example, but would also be very happy to see other types of contributions as well. If you are interested in contributing to the STC and/or to the newsletter, please contact myself (Niklas Carlsson) or our excellent newsletter editor Cristina Rottondi. We are looking for both technical and non-technical contributions accessible to everybody.

Perhaps most importantly, I would like to thank everybody that already are contributing to the STC and the newsletter for your efforts. It has been great to read and hear about your contributions during 2016 and we look forward to see more exciting news during 2017.

Happy New Year to you all. Let us together make 2017 a successful year and continue to help make our world a better and more sustainable place to live.

Playing together to save electricity: comparing approaches with the Social Power mobile app 

Devon Wemyss1, Roberta Castri2, Francesca Cellina2, Vanessa De Luca2, Evelyn Lobsiger-Kägi1, and Vicente Carabias1

1 ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland
SUPSI University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland, Switzerland

Although providing information feedback on personal electricity consumption gained wide popularity in the last decade as a component of interventions aimed at stimulating less energy-intensive behaviour at household level, information alone seems not to be sufficient [Hargreaves et al., 2010 and 2013; Frederiks et al., 2015]. Here we present an alternative methodology designed and tested within the Social Power project (, which: acknowledges that energy consumption is a socially-embedded activity, addresses social interactions between individuals [Abrahamse et al., 2005; Carrico and Riemer, 2011; Sintov and Schultz, 2015], and advances feedback using “gamification” as a motivational trigger (the use of game mechanics and elements in real-life contexts [Deterding et al., 2011; Hamari et al, 2014]).

Social Power is an interactive, app-based game aimed at promoting electricity savings at the household level, by exploiting interactions between teams of neighbours. It offers two gameplay contexts: a collaborative game, in which a team of households aims to reach a 10% electricity savings target collectively, and a competitive game, in which a team of households in the same neighbourhood aims to save the most electricity in comparison to a team in another neighbourhood.

The Social Power app visualises the participant’s hourly electricity usage and the team’s weekly consumption as shown in the screenshots in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Screenshots of the Social Power app (l-r): First step of a challenge, Energy Diary with weekly consumption reports, Competitive gameplay interface, Collaborative gameplay interface.

The app prompts participants to engage in weekly electricity-saving challenges. By completing the challenges, participants practice sustainable behaviour when using their electric home appliances. A points system for completing challenges, bonuses for weekly electricity savings, tips, and quizzes with tangible prizes are used as incentives for active participation. Social Power proposes a model for learning that occurs simply by ‘doing’ sustainable activities, rather than assuming a lack of awareness and a need to inform the end-users in a top-down manner.

The Social Power game was run as a three months field experiment (February to May 2016) involving 46 voluntary households living in two Swiss cities, with 46 additional anonymous households as a control. Households were randomly assigned to the collaborative and competitive gameplay contexts. All households had no electricity-based heating systems, therefore their electricity consumption was only due to electrical appliances and lightings.

During the intervention the weekly electricity consumption by the participating households decreased by about 8%, not only compared to their own baseline, but also compared to the control group where there was an average increase in electricity use of 1%. Table 1 shows the savings by city and by gameplay context, and we find that no significant difference is found between the gameplay contexts.


City consumption

Gameplay context consumption












City 1







City 2





City 1







City 2





City 1







City 2




Table 1 Team electricity consumptions (active household participants only) Note: Negative consumption means savings. Comparison made between weekly electricity use during intervention as compared to baseline average weekly consumption. 

Figure 2 presents the weekly savings achieved during the intervention period. The general trend is a continual improvement in savings by the participating households.

Figure 2 Average change in electricity consumption over time during intervention (weekly consumption minus baseline average weekly consumption) of the two gameplay contexts and the control group.

Positive results from the Social Power field experiment are very encouraging – though only a long-term assessment, at least one year after the intervention, will tell if the game was able to stimulate lasting changes in behaviour. Yet long term consistency may depend on characteristics of the sample of participants: as participation was voluntary, the sample may be biased with an intrinsic interest in energy topics and particularly conscious of electricity use behaviour. To get further insight on such aspects, specifically targeting low-interest groups should be an additional goal for future research activities.

Since no significant differences between the two gameplay contexts could be detected, one might argue that when individuals evaluate their personal achievements based on group  performance, it triggers additional motivation. Unfortunately, with the current experimental design, it is not possible to differentiate the effect between the personalized individual feedback and the combined social game mechanics. As such, the setup of the app with challenges, tips, and quizzes, may play an equally important role.

Interestingly, results from a pre- and post-intervention survey report that the sense of community in the Social Power teams was rather low. However, when interviewed, many participants report some degree of peer pressure during the game and pointed out that the total anonymity preserved within the app between players (only aggregate social group feedback was displayed), was a major obstacle in starting the expected inter-personal group interaction via the provided social media communication channels (Blog; Facebook). These findings may confirm that although mobile game applications offer communication flexibility in the sense that players no longer need to be physically co-located in order to interact, many basic cues of identity, personality, and social roles are absent in the online world [Donath, 1999]. People who do not know each other and have no pre-existing relationships may not have the same motivation to communicate or even feel inhibited to start a dialogue, if not provided with some means of identifying their group members, especially considering the multi-player nature of Social Power. Thus, future versions of Social Power-like games will have to favour creation of teams whose members are either already tied by real-life relationships, or else, must provide some form of (virtual) characterisation of team members to foster group interaction. As an additional benefit, this is expected to also improve long-term engagement when the novelty of a new app or intervention decreases.

Abrahamse, W., L. Steg, C. Vlek, and T. Rothengatter, “A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation,” J. Environ. Psychol., vol. 25, pp. 273–291, 2005.

Carrico, A. R., M. Riemer, “Motivating energy conservation in the workplace: An evaluation of the use of group-level feedback and peer education,” J. Environ. Psychol., vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 1–13, 2011.

Deterding, S., D. Dixon, R. Khaled, and L. Nacke, “From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining ‘Gamification,’” in Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems - CHI EA ’11, 2011, pp. 9–16.

Donath, J. S. “Identity and deception in the virtual community,” in Communities in cyberspace, 1999, pp. 29–59.

Frederiks, E. R., Stenner, K., & Hobman, E. V., "The socio-demographic and psychological predictors of residential energy consumption: A comprehensive review. Energies, 8(1), 573–609, 2015.

Hamari, J., J. Koivisto, and H. Sarsa, “Does gamification work? - A literature review of empirical studies on gamification,” Proc. Annu. Hawaii Int. Conf. Syst. Sci., pp. 3025–3034, 2014.

Hargreaves, T., M. Nye, and J. Burgess, “Making energy visible: A qualitative field study of how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors,” Energy Policy, vol. 38, no. 10, pp. 6111–6119, 2010.

Hargreaves, T., M. Nye, and J. Burgess, “Keeping energy visible? Exploring how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors in the longer term,” Energy Policy, vol. 52, pp. 126–134, 2013.

Sintov, N. D., P. W. Schultz, “Unlocking the potential of smart grid technologies with behavioral science,” Front. Psychol., vol. 6, no. April, pp. 1–8, 2015.

Book summary: Privacy-Preserving Protocols for Smart Metering Systems: Security and Privacy 

Springer is publishing the book entitled On Privacy-Preserving Protocols for Smart Metering Systems: Security and Privacy in Smart Grids written by Prof. Fábio Borges de Oliveira. From vacation time to TV channel, smart meters can disclose too much information about customers. The book is interesting for IEEE Special Technical Community on Sustainable Computing due to several reasons, for instance:

1. The book presents energy efficient protocols and a discussion about several privacy-enhancing technologies from classical algorithms to quantum mechanics. In particular, a protocol has constant time for smart meters to encrypt their measurements, which represents a threshold of processing time. We can compare such protocol with others developed to provide different features. The book also presents other protocols and compare them. In this case, energy efficient is based on time. If we solve the same problem with less processing, we have a more sustainable computing.

2. Renewables enable sustainability in power grids by means of IT infrastructures. Renewable energy sources are paramount for us to achieve environmental sustainability. However, most renewables are unstable. Suddenly, we have sun and wind, and suddenly, we do not. Battery is a part of the solution, but we need IT infrastructures to control the power grid.

3. We can measure and evaluation the sustainability of information network in a power grid. IT infrastructures have costs, but we can compute the costs for data processing and transmission, as well as, security and privacy. The smaller the costs are, the better the protocol is. In fact, protocols with smaller costs have less impact on the consumption and can be sustainable.

4. The protocols with their algorithms presented in the book can be used in several applications, thus, they facilitate more sustainable computing in several areas. For example, they facilitate more sustainable computing in electronic voting and cash, reputation systems, sensor networks, multi-party computation, mobile sensing, image processing...

5. The use of computing to improve systematically the sustainability in the power grid generates the smart grid. Therefore, we cannot have a smart grid without sustainable computing.

The book provides the results of simulations for us to compare the performance of the protocols. Hence, we can have an idea of how the protocols perform in other applications.

Even though the book have strong relations with sustainable computing, it focuses on security and privacy. Based on Dining Cryptographers Problem and its solution with symmetric DC-Net, the book introduces the concept of asymmetric DC-Net (ADC-Nets). Protocols based on ADC-Nets can have several important properties such as minimum number of messages in a network, verification of transactions, and independency of trusted third party. In particular, DC-Nets can enforce security and privacy, and ADC-Net can avoid disruption attacks.

Considering only security and privacy, the book presents limitations for all protocols that aggregate data to anonymize them, including ADC-Nets. Small number of users and measurements can leak privacy in all protocols. Usually, it is easy to be convinced otherwise. We may think that fewer measurements leak less privacy. However, attacker can break all protocols with few measurements.

The book is paramount for us to achieve sustainable computing with security and privacy.

You may find more information in

Upcoming Events

The following venues are requesting submissions on subtopics related to sustainable computing or IT for sustainability.


Short Name

Main Topic



Paper Due


ACM e-Energy 2016

Smart Energy Systems

Hong Kong, China

May 17-19, 2017

Jan 20, 2017

Apr 3, 2017


IEEE International Conference on Green Computing and Communications

Exeter, United Kingdom

June 21- June 23, 2017



23 February 2017

22 April 2017

GreenMetrics 2017

Sustainable Computing

Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA (in conjunction with the 2017 ACM SIGMETRICS conference)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Monday, March 27 (hard deadline)

April 19, 2017

IEEE SmartgridComm 2017

Smart Grid Communications

Dresden, Germany

October 16- October 18, 2017

April 14, 2017

7 July 2017

SGNC 2017

Green Networking & Computing

Split, Croatia,

September 21 – 23, 2017

May 20, 2017

July 1, 2017


Journal and Special Issue Call For Papers 

  1. Sustainable Computing (Open) 
  2. IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Computing (Open)
  3. IEEE Transactions on Green Communications and Networking (Open)