A Denver Post article asks, “Would you be more likely to cut your energy bill to save a few dollars or to get a gift card and a chance to win an iPod? Would you be more willing to shut off the air conditioner if you will save money or because your neighbors do it?” Would peer pressure make you more energy efficient? Alex Laskey, co-founder of Opower, has done the work to suggest that yes, it would.
In this Ted Talk, Laskey talks about “The Largest Behavioral Science Experiment in the World.” As one of the partners who developed the report used by utility companies to give home owners those energy-efficiency comparisons, his argument persuades the audience that the most important energy saving technology is not technology, but behavioral changes made by individuals. Great food for thought. This eight minute video is eloquent and informative.
Started in 2010, some Minnesota utility customers started receiving these energy report cards. Initial results discussed in this article were in support of Laskey’s argument.
Energy use has dropped 2 percent to 3 percent because of the program, and most people have been happy with it. "The vast majority say, 'I'm using more energy than my neighbors. What can I do about it?''' About 2 percent have "opted out," with some saying it's "too Big Brotherish," said Bruce Sayler, who manages government relations for Connexus Energy.
Connexus is an electric cooperative that serves several north metro communities and was the first utility in Minnesota to experiment with the program. "We decided to continue the program for the next several years because of the great results," he said.
In 2013, the program continues to succeed in proving that people do care about "keeping up with the Jonses."
As of the third quarter in 2012, “MyMeter” program gave homeowners online access to their utility usage, even offering text and email notifications to users who had set up energy thresholds on their accounts as they approached the goals or limits they set for themselves. Program market planning specialist at Minnesota’s Otter Tail Power says of the nearly three year old program, “Overall we’ve heard very little back from customers, but we do know that they are taking steps to save energy as indicated by the energy savings previously reported.”
Citizens in action
Just last month, in May 2013, Julia Eagles on “More for the Mission” a blog on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website, writes about her experience with creating a more energy-efficient home and utilizing the comparison reports provided by her utility company.
“As you can see from the Home Energy Report we received from CenterPoint Energy in January, we’re using slightly less energy than our most efficient neighbors, but we still used more this year than we did last year at this time, which may be due to chillier winter. I love that utilities have started providing these reports to customers, and the ways it helps make energy usage more tangible and visible.
I share this personal experience and example of my own home, because it’s been a real learning experience.”
June 2013 report
Back in Colorado, panelists at Boulder Earth Conference agree the program works, but wonder how to sustain the important message.
Gabler, director of demand-side management and renewable programs for Xcel Energy Inc. says, "We've achieved up to a 2 percent savings with those reports - but what happens when the reports stop? Will customers revert back?"
Still, "that 2 percent across the entire energy industry is a lot," LeBlanc, president of the Boulder Energy Group and a senior adviser at eSource Companies LLC, said, but agreed that the "keeping up with the Joneses" aspect of the Opower reports could make "social norms a bigger motivator than the numbers. When they see they're using more than their neighbors - but when we tell them they're doing better, they tend to use more. We've got to stop doing that!"
Xcel Energy customers can get a closer look at the program resources online at: https://xcelenergy.opower.com/ei/app/index.html