Conservation by comparison: Will Rexburg residents get competitive about saving energy?

Fri, 2015-01-23 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

As cities around the world face climate change mandates, energy efficiency should be a no-brainer. It's something everyone can help with, including everyday citizens as this story illustrates.

If you were to ask most people, they would probably tell you that they already do a fairly good job of conserving energy. And that glowing self-assessment doesn’t provide much of an incentive to try harder. So Rocky Mountain Power is trying to change that by showing some of its customers how they actually compare to their neighbors.

The utility launched the pilot project with a random sample of 15,000 customers who live in Rexburg, Idaho. The project is powered by customer engagement technology from Council Associate Partner Opower.

Delivering a true comparison
Customers selected for the program are receiving customized reports designed to deliver a true comparison. Each resident receives a report that compares their particular energy use to 100 other similar homes in the community.

The comparable homes aren’t necessarily next door and may not even be in the same subdivision. To make the report meaningful, the comparable homes are similar in size and are heated and cooled in the same way. As much as possible, residents can see how others with the same type of house are conserving.

The utility sends the comparison reports separate from the power bills to improve their visibility.

Reports are confidential
It’s understandable that residents may be nervous about how much the utility appears to know about them, but all of the information is confidential and comes from other government sources. Information about the home size, heating source and whether or not air conditioning is installed comes from property records held by the county assessor and Census data.

Still, judging by comments on a television news story about the program, some residents say they’re concerned that some of the information could be used for marketing and other purposes. The utility assures them that any property data it has is completely confidential and used only to generate the reports.

And given that each report compares a resident to 100 anonymous others, there’s no way one person could tell specifically how a neighbor is doing. Their next-door neighbor may not even be in the comparison. But to alleviate any privacy concerns, the utility provides a method of opting out.

Designed to encourage conservation
For customers who want to conserve more, the report can help guide them in that direction. Customers have the option of providing more detailed information about their homes at a secure online portal, which will help them develop a customized conservation plan.

The reports are not a one-time deal. Initially, the utility is sending them out on a monthly basis with plans to eventually send them out every other month. The idea is to help recipients track their progress over time.

Rocky Mountain Power serves nearly 1.8 million customers in six states. It may allow customers to opt in for the program, but it hasn’t announced a timeline for doing that.

Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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