T&D World Magazine

Facebook, NRDC, and Opower Partner to Develop a New Social Energy Application

Facebook, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Opower today announced a first-of-its-kind partnership to use the power of social networking to raise consumer awareness about energy consumption through a joint development of a new social energy application. Leveraging the Facebook platform, the app will enable consumers who choose to participate to benchmark their home's energy usage against a national average of similar homes, compare their energy use with friends, enter energy-saving competitions, and share tips on how to become more energy efficient.

The partnership builds upon each organization's strengths to offer a powerful tool that provides context and connection for helping people become more energy efficient. Combining the broad reach of Facebook with Opower's utility partner network will enable meaningful socially driven energy savings to occur. Furthermore, NRDC will provide environmental expertise while engaging new partners and encouraging consumer participation.

According to NRDC, improvements in energy efficiency have the potential to deliver more than $700 billion in cost savings in the U.S. alone. Motivating consumers to take action—something that has traditionally been a challenge—is the key to unlocking this potential. Studies have shown that the average U.S. consumer spends about six minutes per year thinking about their energy. The joint effort is designed to change that by harnessing the power of social networking to supercharge consumer engagement with energy efficiency.

The app creates the opportunity to join the more than 800 million people on Facebook with Opower's growing network of more than 60 utility partners. End users who choose to participate will enjoy a seamless data upload and authentication process, allowing millions of people to pull home energy-usage data from their utility provider into the application to see how they compare to others, and share usage and savings achievements with friends.

As a commitment in support of the effort, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), the City of Palo Alto (Calif.), and Glendale Water & Power (GWP) have stood up as the first U.S. utilities to be participating by offering their customers the ability to import usage data into the social energy application. The participation from these utilities alone will make it easy for the 4 million customers from those utilities, including all residents of Chicago, to start using the new application as soon as it is launched in early 2012. Several other utilities are expected to announce their support of this effort in the coming weeks.

The initial set of features will allow consumers to:

  • Compare Energy Use to Similar Homes: People will be able to benchmark their home energy use against a national database of millions of homes. All benchmarking will be done on an aggregate level, ensuring complete data privacy.
  • Compare Energy Use Among Friends: People will be able to invite friends to compare their energy use against their own, show how energy efficient they are, and share tips on how to improve. The Friend Comparison Feature is a social version of Opower's Neighbor Comparison module, which features prominently in its successful nationwide Home Energy Reporting programs.
  • Publish Conversations About Energy to the Facebook Newsfeed: People will be able to share information about their energy use, rank, group participation, and tips.
  • Group Development – Cooperation and Competition: Communities of people will be able to form teams to help each other achieve collective goals, as well as compete against other groups. Teams will be rewarded and incentivized by their utility or other network partners.
  • Automatically Import Energy Data: Customers of participating utilities will be able to import their energy data into the application automatically, if they so choose. (Customers from utilities that are not participating will also have the option to input their energy usage into the app manually.)

The application's concept derives from extensive social-science research on human behavior change and energy use. Dating back to NRDC's Hood River Conservation Project in the 1980s—word-of-mouth has proved to be an effective tool in encouraging people to use energy more efficiently. With Facebook's emergence as a global platform for word-of-mouth information transmission, the application's combination of energy information, behavioral science, and advocacy with hundreds of millions of users has the potential to create a global dialogue about energy efficiency.

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