Motivating consumers to buy and install energy-saving products has been a puzzle for energy-efficiency advocates. But a couple of companies say they have figured it out.
Opower, which provides the customers of some electric utilities with monthly energy-saving reports, uses what is called social behavioral science (or social psychology). Its monthly reports show homeowners how they compare to others in their area or community, and the company says 85 percent of the people receiving its information take energy-saving action. People change their behavior to be a more normal member of a group. It’s a form of self-imposed peer pressure.
Grounded Power has done the same in trials with utilities in its home state of Massachusetts, and like Opower, the company points to goal-setting as a way to encourage consumers to achieve energy savings. Goal setting is the cornerstone of successful programs such as Weight Watchers, in which dieters set realistic goals and gather to compare results.
“People who set goals for themselves cut their energy consumption by 9 to 10 percent,” says Laskey.
So the secret to energy savings is social pressure? “We’ve taken something that’s invisible and boring, and we’re getting people to talk about it,” says Laskey, who says recipients of Opower reports share the information with their families. “If you want people to make investments in energy efficiency, the first step is getting people to talk about it.”
Ryan Parker, director of marketing for Intel Embedded and Communications Group, foresees social media sites becoming hubs for energy efficiency information and behavior. “There may be networks of like-minded people providing comparisons, competitive and not.” He cites a Facebook farm game, in which members compete in the growing of crops. So why not energy savings, too? This is already done on college campuses where dorm buildings are equipped with energy monitors.
So energy efficiency can be sold as a game, or as a social scene, or as a subtle form of peer pressure. And subtle is exactly what energy efficiency has to be. It doesn’t quite yet sell on its own, because many consumers are just becoming aware of their home’s energy and electricity consumption - and that they can save money.
More than Energy Monitoring
That’s why the latest round of energy monitoring systems from companies such as Cisco, Intel and others add other functions to energy management. Intel calls its product a “Home Dashboard,” rather than a Home Energy Dashboard. It sports a simple clock on the face and performs other functions such as video messaging via a built-in camera.
Intel sees its system as part of a whole-house ecosystem that also uses voltage, temperature and humidity sensors to generate much richer data. “[Another] thing we see is how do you analyze the data? People don’t understand how to use it. So we want to translate that data into something people understand,” says Intel’s Parker.
Cisco’s countertop touchscreen also comes cloaked as a clock. And both companies will first look to the utilities and service provider market. Comcast, ADT and Verizon are all looking to market low-cost energy management solutions to their customers. “To really gain momentum in the consumer market, [energy management] should be a non-intrusive service and part of something else. If it’s part of home security or something else, that’s more compelling to consumers,” says Larry O’Connell, consumer energy product manager of Cisco’s Prosumer Business Unit.
Both Cisco and Intel foresee a retail market for their products - perhaps within a year or two - and Intel is more likely to OEM its products.
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