Energy prices are big news at the moment, with politicians of various stripes here in Britain pledging to do something about what they perceive to be poor behaviour by the energy companies. Foremost amongst these plans is a pledge by opposition leader Ed Miliband to force companies to freeze energy prices should they regain power at the next election.
In a world of nudge based thinking however, are there better ways of helping people than the usual top down rhetoric beloved of politicians down the years?
Recyclebank show what can be done with a social and gamified approach. They have added RFID chips to the recycling bins used to collect our rubbish. Those chips are used to weigh the amount of recycling that we generate each week, with that ‘output’ then converted into points, which can in turn then be converted into rewards from retailers such as Coca-Cola.
It’s a bit like the frequent flyer schemes or loyalty cards at your favourite grocery store, but this time it’s encouraging eco friendly behaviour. As an example of how effective it’s been, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, recycling rates increased 67% over a two year period, largely thanks to their adoption of Recyclebank rewards.
Opower are one organisation looking to apply similar approaches to energy efficiency. OPower works to solve these problems by utilizing gamification to encourage people to use less energy.
The company works with utility companies to provide households with data on how much energy they are consuming, how they match up with neighbours, and if they are close to any new milestones.
Compellingly, people are consuming on average 2% less energy, which in 2012 led to over 1 Terawatt of energy savings in the world. This equates to $120,000,000 in utility bill savings, and decreased pollution equivalent of keeping 100,000 cars off the road.
A similar project was created by Simple Energy, who teamed up with San Diego Gas & Electric to turn energy saving into a competition.
The app allows consumers to track their energy usage in real time, whilst comparing their consumption both with themselves, and their neighbours.
The process itself is very simple. Simple Energy gets consumer usage data from electric utilities and funnels that through its servers into the mobile and desktop programs it designs. All you need is a computer or smartphone: Once you sign up, your online account or mobile phone app can tell you how much energy you’ve used in the last hour, day, month, etc.
The social element comes into play if your friends are also signed up, because you can compare your own performance against theirs. Rewards come in the form of badges rather than tangible rewards, but for many that seems incentive enough.
Such social incentives were uncovered by The Reducing Energy Consumption through Community Knowledge Networks (RECCKN) team that studied the way social engagement can reduce energy consumption.
They found that consumers are generally sceptical of the energy companies, and as such are not likely to accept advice on energy saving that comes from them, instead preferring to take advice from friends, families and local organisations in the third sector.
The most effective method of communicating that advice was also interesting, with face to face discussions proving most effective, as consumers were generally overwhelmed by the barrage of offers and information that was sent to them via written communication.
What’s more, face to face conversations allowed interaction and for questions to be asked. This level of engagement proved crucial, as despite the strong instincts most people had for reducing energy consumption, few had the confidence to follow those instincts, instead often deferring to so called experts.
The researchers said that, ‘The key to releasing this potential lies in making energy use ‘discussable’ at convivial meetings where citizens can exchange tips and knowledge. As well as producing good energy outcomes, we found that these meetings increase confidence and the motivation to save energy, empower citizens, and increase community capacity.”