You Share Everything Else On Facebook - Why Not Your Power Usage?
April 4, 2012

You Share Everything Else On Facebook – Why Not Your Power Usage?

A free “social energy” app was rolled out on Tuesday April 3 aiming to promote energy efficiency through friendly competition, said a three-partner team behind the launch.

Facebook, the National Resources Defense Council and Opower have been working on the app since last October, promising it will help orchestrate lower energy use by allowing residents using the app to compare monthly usage with similar households and share tips for lowering their energy bills.

Users of the app will be able to form teams and compete against others, with incentives provided by their utility partners. And to make it more interesting, users will be able to share their power usage information via Facebook.

The app is garnering the support of 16 US utilities and will be available to more than 20 million households after initial beta testing. Participating utilities include National Grid in New York and Massachusetts, Austin Utilities in Minnesota and City of Palo Alto Utilities in California.

“Palo Altans generally like to compete in these types of things, so we think it will be very effective,” City of Palo Alto Utilities spokeswoman Joyce Kinnear told Mercury News.

“The level of enthusiasm we´re seeing from people who are excited about getting better context about their energy use, and share -- even brag -- about their energy efficiency within their social networks is inspiring,” Dan Yates, CEO and cofounder of Arlington, Virginia-based Opower, told Mercury's Jason Green.

But using technology to encourage consumers to save energy has been quite a challenge for other companies. Google's PowerMeter was shut down last September due to lack of usage; and Microsoft Hohm is set to shut down in May.

Opower is taking a different approach, partnering with Facebook to use social pressures to achieve the same goals.

“If every household in the U.S. cut back on energy use by a mere 1 percent, that alone would cut more than $1.6 billion off of Americans´ annual energy bills. That´s the same as taking more than 1.2 million homes off-the-grid all together,” Brandi Colander, an NRDC attorney for its Energy and Transportation Group, said in a statement.

NRDC´s partnership support includes subject matter expertise, partnership development and promotion. “This important tool will enhance energy literacy, making our daily energy choices more transparent and empowering people to make smarter, more economical decisions,” Colander added.

“The application´s use of this kind of behavioral science combined with energy information, and Facebook´s global platform for connecting and sharing has the potential to create a dialogue and action about energy efficiency among hundreds of millions of people,” Opower said.

This app represents a step forward from the bimonthly energy reports Opower has been producing for Palo Alto Utilities customers since last fall, said Utilities director Valerie Fong.

“When our customers engage online with others using this easy, fun tool, they are helping our entire community move toward more energy savings, reduce utilities bills and a more sustainable daily life,” she told Mercury News.

The app could also benefit Palo Alto´s climate protection plan, said Deborah van Duynhoven, assistant to the city manager. The city plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from city operations and the community collective by 5 percent of 2005 levels this year.

“It´s a playful way of thinking about being more sustainability,” said Duynhoven.

Former Palo Alto city mayor, Yoriko Kishimoto, said she plans on using the app. “I think it will stimulate a lot of thinking and friendly competition,” she said. “Peer to peer is the most powerful learning environment.”

She said residents can already achieve significant savings simply by adjusting their daily habits. Kishimoto added that her “drafty, old house,” built in 1908, is currently in the top 5 percent of energy efficiency.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said. “Though, I will say that my family wears a lot of sweaters during winter.”

Those interested in signing up for the app can visit or search for Opower on Facebook.