Alex LASKEY's presentation of behavioural science

How behavioural science can lower your energy bill

Alex LASKEY, one of the OPOWER‘s founders, gave a great TED presentation about how behaviour changes can help us save energy. This is another great example how to make Energy Efficiency sexy. Here is the 8-min video and his speech I tried to wrap up.

Alex LASKEY's presentation of behavioural science

TED: click on the image

How many of you have checked your email today? Raise your hands.

And how about finances? Anybody check that today? Credit card, investment account? How about this week?

Now, how about your household energy use? Anybody check that today? This week? Last week? This is a room filled with people who are passionate about the future of this planet, and even we aren’t paying attention to the energy use that’s driving climate change.

If you wanted to light this bulb for a year, you’d need a wheelbarrow of coal. The bad news here is that, for every unit of energy we use, we waste nine. That means there’s good news, because for every unit of energy we save, we save the other nine. So the question is, how can we get the people in this room and across the globe to start paying attention to the energy we’re using, and start wasting less of it?

The answer comes from a behavioral science experiment that was run one hot summer, 10 years ago in San Marcos, California. Graduate students put signs on every door in a neighborhood, asking people to turn off their air conditioning and turn on their fans. One quarter of the homes received a message that said, did you know you could save 54 dollars a month this summer? Turn off your air conditioning, turn on your fans. Another group got an environmental message. And still a third group got a message about being good citizens, preventing blackouts. None of these messages worked. They had zero impact on energy consumption. It was as if the grad students hadn’t shown up at all.

But there was a fourth message, and this message simply said, “When surveyed, 77 percent of your neighbors said that they turned off their air conditioning and turned on their fans. Please join them. Turn off your air conditioning and turn on your fans.” The people who received this message showed a marked decrease in energy consumption simply by being told what their neighbors were doing.

So what does this tell us? Well, if something is inconvenient, even if we believe in it, moral suasion, financial incentives, don’t do much to move us — but social pressure, that’s powerful stuff. And harnessed correctly, it can be a powerful force for good. In fact, it already is.

Inspired by this insight, my friend Dan Yates and I started a company called Opower. We built software and partnered with utility companies who wanted to help their customers save energy. We deliver personalized home energy reports that show people how their consumption compares to their neighbors in similar-sized homes. Just like those effective door hangers, we have people comparing themselves to their neighbors, and then we give everyone targeted recommendations to help them save. We started with paper, we moved to a mobile application, web, and now even a controllable thermostat, and for the last five years we’ve been running the largest behavioral science experiment in the world.

And it’s working. Ordinary homeowners and renters have saved more than 250 million dollars on their energy bills, and we’re just getting started. This year alone, in partnership with more than 80 utilities in six countries, we’re going to generate another two terawatt hours of electricity savings.


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