When Slate's Daniel Gross publicly posted
his electricity and heating oil usage rates, he didn't anticipate how
many readers would write in to lambaste him as an energy "porker." But
this led Gross to a revelation:
When energy usage rates are public for all to see, the threat of public
shaming becomes a real disincentive to over-consumption. Gross further
concludes that, if everyone in his neighborhood also made their
energy usage rates public, they would naturally begin to compete to see
who could use less. Why? Peer pressure! "Engineers like to say that
what gets measured gets controlled," he writes.
Xcel Energy has been doing experiments about this in its service area. It sends report cards that "lets the customers know in a colorful bar chart how they rate when their combined electrical and natural gas use for the past month is compared with 100 neighbors in similar-size homes. It also lets them know how they did compared with their most efficient neighbors." Those that perform well against these benchmarks receive two smiley faces. It sounds like second grade, but this information can be a powerful motivator. Utilities that have tried such efforts report that these efforts alone result in reductions of 2 percent to 3 percent, which is significant.