Data and Peer Pressure Fuel Efficiency

November 4, 2010

Smiley facesIn a recent post here on GBE, I wrote about a project in Portland, Oregon that was going to post residents’ power usage for all to see, in the hopes that peer pressure and the sense of competition would spur them to use less. There is a company that offers this service in a grander scale, and it is significantly reducing the amount of power that is being used.

OPOWER provides reporting data to customers for utility companies based on demographics. This data lets customers know how their energy use stacks up against similar households in their area, and gives them recommendations for reducing their usage. According to their research, 80% of the households in their service areas adopt energy saving measures, as compared to only 5% in areas without their service. This is how the communication might go:

  1. Report says, “You used 72% more than your efficient neighbors.”
  2. Targeted tip says, “Most people in your area keep their AC at 78 degrees.”
  3. Result: Customer resets thermostat for 78 degrees and performs other energy saving measures.

The reports also offer a simple rating system to let customers know how they are doing compared to their efficient neighbors and all residences in the area: two smiley faces is Great, one smiley face is Good, otherwise it’s just More Than Average. Like the coveted Gold Star, customers always strive to get two smiley faces.

Now, there is some science to back up their approach. As I mentioned before, the competitive streak in all of us, coupled with “keeping up with the Joneses,” makes us prime targets for this type of campaign. OPOWER has managed to combine behavioral science and psychology in order to reduce energy use.

While this may seem a bit Big Brother-ish, it does work. With the coming of the Smart Grid, Big Brother may be more apparent as our appliances and electronics let Him know exactly what we are doing and when. As long as it is used for good, a little competition never hurt anyone.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user xtheowl through a Creative Commons License.


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Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.
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