12 Mar 2011

A different kind of energy competition. Or is it guilt? Envy? Pride?

Written by energyscout

If you knew most of your neighbors were using 10% percent less energy on an apples-to-apples basis during the past year, how would you react? Would you drop a hint at the next neighborhood barbeque? Would you date someone who is an energy hog?

Credit: AdvancedFilmFL.net

A burgeoning field of data miners, software developers and social scientists are betting that a growing number of sustainability-minded homeowners not only care, but will do a lot make up that difference. They might even subject someone they met via an online dating site to questions how much energy they waste.


The latter scenario is probably a stretch. But pride, competition and perhaps even guilt loom as tools to persuade homeowners to reduce their energy consumption. Or at least get an energy audit.

Enter companies such as Earth Aid, Microsoft Hohm, OPOWER, Silver Spring Networks, Tendril and Welectricity to name a few. It’s a crowded field. Can either one of them make a difference?  How many homeowners out there are motivated to outperform their neighbors? And could this be the missing link to help consumers use smart grid applications to their benefit? Can it overcome the skepticism by some consumers that smart meters are little more than a ‘trojan horse’ to increase their utility bills?

Longer term, can either of these integrate energy audit data into a cohesive home efficiency model that social networks can benefit from even more?

Below is how some of the industry players are trying to position their products and features. Some are more mature than others. Judging by the venture capital flowing into this space, the potential is significant. Send us your feedback on which approach makes the most sense for you as a consumer and your utility.  Game on!

Earth Aid. Beyond assertions to help you get a better handle on your utility bills and earn rewards for saving energy at home, at present this seemed a laggard in this fast-evolving industry. But an infusion of venture capital could help them catch up quickly.

Microsoft Hohm. A Hohm Score is a number from 0 to 100 (higher is better) measuring your home’s energy efficiency based on home structure and your estimated energy use. It can change over time based on improvements to your home. Until you join Hohm, it’s an estimate; it becomes more accurate after you sign up and enter details about your home. As with other similar metrics, the Hohm Score enables comparisons of your home’s efficiency to other homes in your neighborhood.

OPOWER. It’s Home Energy Report integrates behavioral science within a variety of  visual modules, e.g. energy use comparison of one household to a similar, and importantly, highly credible set of ”neighborhood peers;” usage analysis offering a detailed look at household energy consumption, plus an actionable insight (e.g., “Your energy use is particularly high, compared to others, during hot summer days”); targeted efficiency tips can be tailored to customer demographics and the household’s previous response; and promotional offers for other utility programs.

Silver Spring Networks. Its “CustomerIQ” web portal delivers interactive and personalized information on energy consumption and pricing, in near real time. Utilities that have deployed the Silver Spring Smart Energy Platform for Advanced Metering can leverage the meter data to automatically populate customers’ portal views. Consumers can use this information to shift or lower their energy usage, save money, and reduce their environmental impact. Ultimately, consumers become the arbitrator amongst cost, comfort, and environmental footprint.

Tendril. Tendril’s “Energize” platform is designed to encourages consumers to adapt, modify and compare behavior, based on personal goals and motivators. The intuitive online interface enables utility customers to control energy use and participate in utility programs on their terms. Consumers also leverage access to personalized energy information, products and services. Energize reduces the amount of energy consumers waste, increasing savings while lowering environmental impact.

Welectricity. Beyond touting itself as free service that helps you track energy consumption at home — which other services already do — it’s difficult to grasp how they are better than their competitors and how they earned the awards they list on their web site.

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