Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Utilities Turn Their Customers Green, With Envy

A frowny face is not what most electric customers expect to see on their utility statements, but Greg Dyer got one.

He earned it, the utility said, by using a lot more energy than his neighbors.

“I have four daughters; none of my neighbors has that many children,” said Mr. Dyer, 49, a lawyer who lives in Sacramento. He wrote back to the utility and gave it his own rating: four frowny faces.

Two other Sacramento residents, however, Paul Geisert and his wife, Mynga Futrell, were feeling good. They got one smiley face on their statement for energy efficiency and saw the promise of getting another.

Last April, it began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces on their statements. “Good” conservation got a single smiley face. Customers like Mr. Dyer, whose energy use put him in the “below average” category, got frowns, but the utility stopped using them after a few customers got upset.

When the Sacramento utility conducted its first assessment of the program after six months, it found that customers who received the personalized report reduced energy use by 2 percent more than those who got standard statements — an improvement that Alexandra Crawford, a spokeswoman for the utility, said was very encouraging.

The approach has now been picked up by utilities in 10 major metropolitan areas eager to reap rewards through increased efficiencies, including Chicago and Seattle, according to Positive Energy, the software company that conceived of the reports and contracts to produce them. Following Sacramento’s lead, they award smiley faces only.
I wrote a year ago about how smiley faces could reduce energy usage, I am glad to see that it has been implemented. I will be interested to see how well it works.

But, what is the deal with not showing frowny faces? Are Americans really that touchy that if they see a frowny face on their bill that they feel the need to write their electricity company to complain? Seriously, if you think that the rating system is unfair to you for whatever reason, can't you just let it roll off your shoulder? If the lack of frowny faces is keeping this program from reducing more electricity usage, I might just have to write my electricity company to complain. :)

via NY Times


Audacious Epigone said...

I'd love to get my hands on the numbers and correlate household population size--specifically the number of people under the age of 18--with rated energy use efficiency. I strongly suspect Dyer is onto something. Not that I think most environmental movements are inherently misanthropic or anything...

If it reduces consumption though, even by 'only' 2%, that strikes me as worth pursuing.

Fat Knowledge said...

Well, I am fairly certain that the more people you have in a household the more electricity used. This raises the question of whether the comparison should be based on usage per person or usage per household. I think you could make a strong case that per person is the better measurement. But, I would be careful running that data if I were you, as I bet that immigrants living with 3 people per room would come out on top of that list. And I would hate for you to have to suggest that there is something to admire in their lifestyle. :)

And yeah, I agree if you can reduce consumption by any amount just by adding smiley faces and comparisons with your neighbors, then that is a good thing.

Audacious Epigone said...

Heh, careful running the numbers, eh? Do I push what I am unable to empirically back up? Hopefully I am sternly corrected when I act so recklessly. I'd love to be able to show both my suspicion and yours!

Fat Knowledge said...


No, you definitely don't push what you are not able to empirically back up. That is why I like your blog, and why you have forced me to change my mind on some issues.

On the other hand, I can't remember a single post on your blog that pointed out anything good about low wage immigrants. But, it is quite possible that I have a bad memory and such posts do exist.

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