Guilt trips are effective weapon against electricity use, study finds


Is guilt tripping households into cutting their energy use as effective as raising the price of power?

A recent study of residential energy use says yes, and Facebook is launching a new “social energy” application that capitalizes on that finding.

Homes that receive regular reports measuring how their energy use stacks up to their neighbors’ cut their electricity consumption, according to the Journal of Public Economics study. Those households reduced the amount of energy they used by 2 percent, the same effect as a price hike of 11 to 20 percent, wrote Hunt Allcott, the report’s author.

“The program provides additional evidence that non-price interventions can substantially and cost effectively change consumers behavior,” the report says.

Allcott studied the “Home Energy Report” program run by Opower, an Arlington, Virginia-based firm that assists utility companies with customer engagement. The Home Energy Reports were sent to customers monthly or quarterly and used bar graphs to compare each recipient’s kilowatt hours to average energy use for similar households. Each household received an efficiency rating of “Great”, “Good” or “Below Average.”

Great users received two smiley faces on their reports. Good customers received one smiley face. Below Average customers got “frownie faces,” until customer complaints killed that feature, according to Alcott’s report.

Now Opower is partnering with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council to promote an app that shows users how their energy consumption measures up to their friends’ and similar households. Utility companies in Illinois and California are the first that offer customers to import their energy usage data into the application.

The application also will allow users to share energy efficiency tips and enter energy-saving competitions, according to the announcement.

No Texas utilities have signed on to the app, but that could change before its launch in early 2012, said NRDC spokeswoman Jenny Powers.

Simone Sebastian

3 Responses

  1. txlady says:

    Bill — sorry, but this is a REAL issue.
    there are many REAL issues in this world.
    to say that one has less merit than another only serves to say that we are so narrow minded and single-purposed that we can’t try to solve more than one problem at a time.

    And even if it’s not a REAL issue to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a REAL issue to someone else. I would like to learn more ways to conserve energy and cut my light bill, as I am sure many others would. I just don’t think comparing my usage to my neighbor’s is something I would be interested in.

  2. Indianpaintbrush says:

    I conserve when I can not only to try to keep my bill down, but also because I was taught to conserve natural resources. I do not give a flying flip how much or little my neighbors use and I do not feel the slightest drollop of guilt over my consumption.
    Waste not, want not is an adage that I apply to all aspects of my life, not just energy.

  3. Bill in Houston says:

    This tactic only works if you are a lily-livered liberal who feels guilt over consuming anything (except Apple products).

    I may gripe when I see my electricity bill in August, but I damned well prefer my comfort to silly guilt trips. I may have changed my bulbs to (mostly) CFL and done a few more modifications to my house in terms of energy efficiency, but I don’t feel the need to brag about it to my neighbors.

    There are REAL issues out there of far higher importance.