Saving Energy Goes Social

For the past couple of years we've been receiving "comparison statements" from our local utility company (Palo Alto Utilities) comparing our energy usage to that of our neighbors with a similar size household.  I'm ashamed to say that we are consistently in the bottom 20%.  Part of the reason is that we remodeled our home in 2004 and nearly doubled our home's square footage, yet we are still being compared with households in our old square footage range (come on, guys, update your records!).  But that can't be the whole story.  Whenever I receive those statements I turn into Energy Cop, yelling at the kids when they leave their bedroom lights on or surreptitiously lowering the thermostat a degree or two and telling everyone to wear sweaters.  Little corrections like that bring us down a notch or two in the Energy Guzzlers list, but I wish there were some way to really analyze our water and energy consumption so we can really see where the biggest opportunities for energy savings lie, and see where we stack up against our neighbors.

Guess what? Help has arrived from, of all places, your local utilities providers!  Contrary to what you might think, high energy usage is NOT beneficial to utility companies in California; utility companies are given incentives for high efficiency, NOT for high usage, so their incentives are in line with the consumers.

That's why smart utility companies like PG&E are figuring out ways to help their customers save energy.  Last week they teamed up with Mom Central Consulting and invited a group of bloggers so learn about the ways they are working with customers to be smarter about energy usage and lower their energy bills. One major PG&E  initiative is to empower customers with knowledge of their energy usage habits via their Smart Grid, which I learned about a couple of years ago. PG&E customers get smart meters that let them check their energy usage in real time on a website, text, email or phone.  Customers can set alerts to notify them when their energy usage reaches a certain amount, so they can take steps to counteract this.  It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the picture!

A second, major initiative that PG&E has taken is partnering up with software company Opower to help motivate customers to save energy by comparing energy usage across various social groups.  That letter we get in the mail?  Opower goes far beyond that.  With Opower, you can head to Facebook to see how your energy consumption stacks up against your friends.  You can create your own comparison groups -- family, friends, you name it.  Instead of comparing usage with people who have the same size household, you could compare usage with your friends who have the same number of people in your household, or a similar lifestyle (i.e. round-the-clock internet users!).  I love the flexibility of comparison, and I love the Keeping Up with the Joneses incentive.  Hey, if it helps save energy and save money, a bit of competition is a good thing, right?  Now if only Palo Alto Utilities would get with the times as well!

Find out more at PG&E's Twitter and Facebook page, and Opower's Twitter and Facebook page.

Disclosure: I wrote this post while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of PG&E and Opower. I was invited to an informational luncheon and received a promotional item to thank me for my participation. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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