Intelligent Energy

On Facebook, a social energy app lets you compete with friends

On Facebook, a social energy app lets you compete with friends

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Software analytics company Opower and Facebook unveiled a real-time, utility-data app that aims to turn saving energy into a game.

Facebook users can now compare their energy consumption with their friends using a new app developed by Opower and in collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Starting today, anyone with a Facebook account can use the app. But the ability to dig into real-time data is only available if your power provider is one of the 16 utilities participating in the project.

Customers within participating utilities' territories, which represents about 20 million households, can have their energy usage data automatically uploaded from their local utility to their Facebook page. Participating utilities include Austin Utilities in Minnesota, ComEd, National Grid serving New York and Massachusetts and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. These utility customers can track their progress and share energy savings accomplishments. The tool is designed to allow people to quickly and easily start benchmarking their home's energy use and similiar homes, compare energy use with friends, enter energy-saving competitions and share tips.

The end goal is more ambitious. OPower and its partners want to encourage folks to use less energy, which in turn, should reduce electricity bills and help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, my utility isn't one of the 16, which limited my test of the app a little bit. I was able to manually enter in my most recent utility bill (as well as previous months) and see how I stacked up against the national average and homes of similar size. I also can to invite friends to compete.

The concept of the Facebook app came out of extensive social science research on human behavior change and energy use. Behavioral analytics just so happens to be Opower's specialty. The energy information software company uses behavioral science and analytics to give targeted data and advice to utility customers. Opower works with 65 utilities to provide energy management data.

The app launched today is in beta testing, but Opower says it will expand with additional partners and functions in the months to come. Those added features could involve participation from other brands and organizations, Opower spokesman Eric Fleming told me today.

A couple of years ago, Google tried to put a social spin on its free home energy management software PowerMeter. In that case, users were allowed to share their energy consumption information with family, friends and neighbors. But it never quite caught on and Google killed PowerMeter last year after failing to attract enough users.

Photo: Opower

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure