How Does Your Home Energy Use Stack Up?

Betsy Ricker, ERS, for Zondits

Utilities across the country are providing their customers with reports that compare an individual home’s usage to their nearest neighbors, and it evidently makes an impact. By leveraging the power of social norms and appealing to the competitive aspect of human nature, these comparison reports have reduced energy consumption by billions of kWh. Even the energy efficiency experts at Zondits are seeing the difference. Says one Zondits contributor: “My household is right on the line between being “good” and “great” compared to our neighbors, with the month-to-month difference being a couple of runs of our relatively inefficient old electric clothes dryer. Needless to say, as competitive folks, we try to hang our laundry out to dry as often as possible.”

Read on to find out more about how utilities are using behavioral science to encourage energy efficiency in homes.



Popular Science, October 5, 2016

By now, most of you likely are receiving those energy efficiency reports in the mail from your local utility company — the ones with the colorful bar graphs that show you how your energy use stacks up against your neighbors. This isn’t an idle “FYI’’ exercise, but a carefully designed strategy aimed at encouraging you to cut back on the power.

The approach is grounded in social science research, based on the belief that if you find out your neighbors are doing the right thing, you will want to do the right thing too. “This isn’t about pushing or prodding people into a choice, but informing them about a choice,’’ said Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University.

The bar graphs compare your individual energy consumption with the overall use among 100 of your closest neighbors, and also shows you a subset of how well you are doing compared to your most efficient neighbors. (They also provide some helpful energy saving tips so, if you’re a flop this time around, you can do better in the next report.) Moreover, when you earn a “good’’ or “great’’ you get rewarded with one or two smiley faces.

home energy use

Don’t dismiss or underestimate the impact of these reports. Studies show they are working.

The Arlington, VA-based company behind the reports, Opower (recently purchased by Oracle), announced in June that the program thus far has saved more than 11 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy working with 100 utilities across four continents.

Read More