With the relationship between utilities and their customers changing in unprecedented ways, new companies are deploying vast amounts of data and social psychology techniques to try to persuade people to use less electricity in their homes.
Visit the website of Opower and your eye will be drawn to a counter in the corner, its digits ticking ever higher. The counter represents energy that the company says its customers have saved after it provided them data on electricity usage and employed behavioral science to change their consumption patterns. As of this writing, the counter is climbing past 1.62 billion kilowatt-hours.
Virginia-based Opower is just one of a growing number of so-called electricity consumer engagement companies around the U.S. that have sprung up in recent years with the aim of helping customers reduce their electricity use, primarily by analyzing their current consumption and finding the easy fixes. These companies are mixing in data from the rapid deployment of smart meters with behavioral science to try and answer a key question: How can we get people to care? The central idea is that by showing people how much electricity they use, when they use it, and what their neighbors and peers use, consumers can be driven to change.
“The buzzwords around the utility industry today, it’s all about consumer engagement,” says Dean Chuang, a senior research analyst with consulting firm IDC Energy Insights near Boston.
These companies, which also include firms such as Colorado-based Tendril and St. Louis-based Aclara, are partnering with utilities nationally and internationally to reduce both utility and consumer costs, and hopefully to plug an efficiency hole that many people don’t even know is there.
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