Just last week, we lamented that Energy Awareness month (that’s going on now, by the way) didn’t do much at all to increase awareness. The critique didn’t offer links to more information, because sending people to clunky government websites is confusing, not enlightening. However, there are companies out there that are looking to empower people with accurate information, and Greentech Media covers them regularly.
Besides, no one really wants to dig into their home energy use (and if they do, they’ve likely already had an audit) -- often, there’s just not enough time in the day between checking Facebook and playing Angry Birds.
Now, energy efficiency is meeting the masses where they already are. Facebook is teaming up with Opower and the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop a social media app that will allow participating consumers to benchmark their energy use against similar homes, compare usage with friends, enter energy-savings competitions and share efficiency tips.
Many home energy management companies offer a social element, and Opower is best known for its behavioral analytics and comparisons to similar homes (now a standard offering in the industry). Until now, however, those social applications often lived within the website where you checked your energy use, rather than on Facebook, where most people already spend some time. Not only can Facebook users compare their energy usage to national averages, but there will also be a “Friend Comparison” feature that will allow Facebook friends to measure themselves against each other.
The partnership is also notable for its scope. This is not a Facebook app for a single utility customer of Opower’s. Instead, there will be utilities from all over the country participating. The first three utilities are Commonwealth Edison, the City of Palo Alto, and Glendale Water & Power. The three utilities will allow customers to import their usage data into the social energy application. More utilities will be announced before the app goes live.
The sharing of information is also notable, as only California’s Public Utility Commission has explicitly laid out the rules for sharing information from smart meters. ComEd has yet to have its smart grid plans approved by the Illinois legislature, so smart meter information will not be available to its customers in the near term.
Even without detailed data, the social element has the ability to spur people to action -- something that has been notoriously hard for utilities and governments to achieve. “We see this new application as an exciting way to offer additional choice, control and value to our customers and as a platform on which we can help build the next generation of smarter customer energy efficiency programs,” Val Jensen, VP of Marketing and Environmental Programs at ComEd said in a statement. NRDC has a long list of partners and says it will continue to engage new partners -- and, potentially, some businesses -- that could offer discounts or incentives to consumers who are using the app.
Ultimately, the app has the ability for Opower’s more than 60 utility partners to help customers understand and share their data on Facebook. Interested folks whose utilities are not working with Opower will be able to manually input their energy use. Opower has millions of homes that it sends reports to, and dozens of utility partners, but Facebook has 800 million users. If the app is effective, the energy savings potential is endless.
The app will be released in early 2012.