Service with a smile (or a frown)

February 8, 2009

Keeping up with the Joneses just got a little tougher, as a handful of energy providers across the country inject power consumption with a little friendly competition.

In April 2008, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District randomly selected 35,000 customers as guinea pigs for its new plan to entice users to eat up less energy. The power house distributed energy bills tagged not only with bar graphs showing users’ consumption compared to their neighbors, but also with smiley faces for the good kids, and frowny faces for the not-so-good. Using twice as much energy as the guy next door? Frown! Getting greener? Smile!

Apparently, the company received several complaints about the sad/happy faces, and so discontinued their use. (Echoes of bad days in kindergarten, perhaps?) But the bar graphs seemed to work, at least a little: when Sacramento MUD reviewed the project after six months, it found that customers who’d received rivalry statements reduced their consumption 2 percent more than those who received old-school energy bills.

Success, right? Sounds like it, given that the system is being picked up by energy providers in ten metro areas around the nation, including Seattle (look out, neighbors — we’re gonna bring you down!).

I do wonder, though, if this competition will spur a change in focus, or simply a switch in where and when folks charge this and use that. Will people just juice up electrics (laptops, cell phones, etc.) elsewhere, like the at-energy-odds college kids mentioned in the article? Or will they reconsider how many of those electrics they need? Will folks eat raw food to save oven energy, or will they order takeout more frequently? What do you think?

Photo: Max Whittaker for the NYT.

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2 Responses to “Service with a smile (or a frown)”

  1. Victor said

    The way to spread this kind of competition would be through schools. Let school kids opt their families into competitions over the course of the semester. Energy use per capita should be the measurement, taking into account the size of households.

  2. That’s an interesting idea — different than the experimentation that’s already been done with college students. I like it! Could get kids thinking about energy conservation before they get out on their own.

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