Energy Initiative Blogs

Technology and Peer Competition

by User Not Found | Feb 05, 2016

HomeElectricityFor years, utility companies, energy efficiency advocates and energy industry experts struggled to find “THE” solution to getting consumers to reduce their electricity usage. Some failed where others succeeded, and, prior to the 2000s, the successful are unable to scale the model to impact millions instead of just hundreds. The following are a couple of success stories.

In 2007, a software firm, determined to create a comprehendible utility bill, discovered a method to drive electricity consumption behavioral change {Savenije, 2014 #5}. That same year, a university used a similar technique in dormitories (dorms) and noticed a 32% reduction in electricity consumption {Faruqui, 2010 #2}. The method/technique used? Competition. Opower, the software firm, used competition between neighbors to get residential consumers to dig a little deeper into their utility bills. Oberlin College used competition to get students, living in the dorms, to reduce their electricity and water consumption.

The researchers at Oberlin College went a little further to study the effects of competitive behavior. To find the effects of competition, with the aid of technology, on behavioral change, the researchers split the dorms into two groups. Group one was “high resolution” where students had access to real-time data and an interactive web-based software interface that brought visibility through dashboards to electricity and water consumption {Faruqui, 2010 #2}. Group two was “low resolution” where students were asked to manually read their electricity and water meters to understand their consumption {Faruqui, 2010 #2}. The results were dramatic between the two groups however the study concluded that technology is not the answer but an aid in reducing electricity usage.

These two success stories demonstrate how providing consumers with the right tools along with healthy competition can lead to lasting behavioral change. Web-based software interface technologies, where Opower is leading in the residential market place, and hardware such as in-home displays (IHDs) are successfully driving behavioral change and enabling consumers to decrease energy consumption. Throw in a mix of healthy competition and consumers strive to reduce their energy usage.

The next steps are understanding how to bring this model of technology and peer competition to the retail industry. The technology, both software and hardware, is expanding, the methodology for long term behavioral change is tried and tested, and the retail energy efficiency market is an untapped potential. It is now a waiting game to see the startups brave enough in to create the next Opower for retail spaces. 

Savenije, D. (2014). "What made Opower so successful?".

Faruqui, A., et al. (2010). "The impact of informational feedback on energy consumption—A survey of the experimental evidence." Energy 35(4): 1598-1608.