Can Applying Social Pressure Improve Energy Usage?
Utility bills might seem as antisocial as just about anything. But a new Facebook application from utility analytics provider Opower will try to help friends help friends save energy.
App users will be able to compare their home energy usage with friends, benchmark themselves against similar homes nationwide and enter energy-saving competitions. So instead of helping a friend water virtual crops on Facebook, users could egg each other on to turn off their appliances.
The app, which isn’t expected to be ready until 2012, should make it relatively easy for users to import accurate information about their home energy bills, due to Opower’s existing relationships with some 60 U.S. utilities providers.
Opower says Facebook is providing resources and expertise to build the app, and the Natural Resources Defense Council has signed up to promote it. Only a few utility providers, in such cities as Chicago and Palo Alto, have agreed to participate so far, but the app isn’t live yet.
These kind of motivational tactics — where a user’s data is put in context, shared with other people and made actionable — have other applications outside of energy usage. For instance, Payoff.com helps people set financial goals and pay off debt, Bundle.com tracks local spending, and all sorts of mobile health apps monitor and share users’ workouts.