‘Green’ may be good, but can it be fun too?

Green guilt hasn’t been enough to do it. Neither have less-than-stellar public information campaigns. So a trio of organizations is putting its weight behind another approach to get people to cut their energy consumption: social networking.

Facebook, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and energy information software company Opower have come together to promote an app that will let people turn energy conservation into a friendly online competition. App users will be able to compare their home energy use with friends, see how they stack up against the national average for similar homes, take part in energy-saving contests and share efficiency tips.

The partnership aims to combine the reach of Facebook, with its 800 million users, with Opower’s network of 60-plus utility partners and the NRDC’s environmental expertise.

“Most people want to make smart energy choices in their homes, but they just don’t have the tools they need to do it,” said Brandi Colander, energy attorney for the NRDC. “Access to personal energy use data is one such tool that can make a big difference.”

“Facebook makes our own energy efficiency a top priority, and we hope to inspire a grand conversation about energy efficiency among the millions of people who use the service every day,” added Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook Sustainability.

Improving energy efficiency could save the US more than $700 billion, but getting people to act on that knowledge has always been a challenge. (Some studies have shown that the average US citizen spends about six minutes a year thinking about energy use.)

Joining in the launch of the new app — set for early 2012 — so far are utilities like Commonwealth Edison, Glendale Water & Power, and the city of Palo Alto, all of which plan to offer their customers the ability to import usage data into the social energy application. Several other utilities are expected to come on board over the next several weeks.

Once it’s available, the energy app will let users:

  • Compare their energy use to that of similar homes (all benchmarking will be done on an aggregate level to keep individual household data private);
  • Compare their energy use to that of their friends;
  • Share information about their energy use, rankings and more to the Facebook Newsfeed;
  • Create teams to help members achieve collective goals and compete against other groups (utilities and network partners plan to offer rewards and incentives);
  • Automatically import their energy data from participating utilities into the application.

“Social networking represents the next frontier in delivering consumer energy savings,” said Dan Yates, co-founder and CEO of Opower. “This application will give users the ability to share their personal energy use information with like-minded individuals—fostering more conversations about energy savings and engaging a broader segment of the population, one that may have had little interest in energy efficiency to date.”

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