Energy efficiency through social networking

X Brandi Colander X energy savingFacebook sustainability, Marcy Scott Lynn, NRDC, social energy application Facebook has unveiled a new application designed to encourage its users to save energy. The social energy application, which is yet to be formally named, will be launched early next year. According to Facebook, the application will allow users to import and measure their energy usage.

The application is being developed in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and utility industry customer engagement platform Opower.

Consumers who choose to participate will be able to benchmark their home’s energy consumption against a national average of similarly-sized homes, compare their energy consumption with friends and contacts, and enter energy-saving competitions. The application will also enable users to share energy efficiency tips.

The scope of the cost savings offered by improving energy efficiency is staggering. NRDC said energy efficiency improvements in the US alone could deliver more than $700 billion in cost savings. The challenge lies in raising awareness. According to studies cited by NRDC, the average US consumer spends around six minutes a year thinking about their energy usage.

Energy efficiency a priority

Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook Sustainability said that Facebook’s 800 million-plus participants make it a formidable tool for effecting positive change: “Facebook makes our own energy efficiency a top priority, and we hope to inspire a grand conversation about energy efficiency among the millions of people who use the service every day. We’re excited to help people who use Facebook share and discover their passion for the environment and the small energy efficiency improvements they can make to reduce energy consumption and save money,” he said of the partnership.

In addition to features allowing the comparison of energy efficiency against similar dwellings and against friends, the application will also permit users to automatically import their household energy data into the program, provided their utility is one of those participating in the scheme.

NRDC said the application’s concept is founded on social science research on human behavior change and energy use. It said that since its 1980s Hood River Conservation Project, word-of-mouth has proved to be one of the more effective tools in changing consumers’ energy habits. NRDC added that Facebook’s position as a global platform for word-of-mouth information transmission “has the potential to create a global dialogue about energy efficiency.”

Energy empowerment

NRDC energy attorney Brandi Colander said that access to personal energy use data can make a big difference in improving energy efficiency: “It [access to personal energy use data] empowers people to use energy more efficiently, which provide the same or better levels of comfort while lowering electric bills, improving service reliability, creating jobs, and reducing pollution,” she said.

The Facebook application is not the first attempt at monitoring consumers’ energy usage via internet-linked programs. Both Microsoft Hohm and Google PowerMeter have similarly endeavored to track domestic energy consumption, with limited success.

Commonwealth Edison (Chicago), the city of Palo Alto, California, and Glendale Water & Power (Los Angeles County) are set to be the first utilities to allow energy importing to the application. They have a combined customer base of around four million.

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