Solar panels, wind farms, diesel-fueled cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs; the list of innovations to save energy goes on and on and on. Yet the people of the US still waste $40 billion every year on expended energy that does not contribute to their livelihood. This includes habits like leaving air conditioners or lights on in empty rooms. And who is to blame for that waste? Obviously, it’s the obstinate inhabitants who do not feel the urge to change their behavior. Now, we can continue to come up with cool new inventions to cut down on energy, but it won’t make the glaring $40 billion problem disappear. So how do we get thy pig-headed neighbor to shut off his air conditioner every now and then? Alex Laskey may tell say something along the lines of, “Well everyone on your street is doing so Sir. Why don’t you do the same?”
Alex Laskey gives a talk about the power of social pressure and how we can utilize it to save energy. People won’t respond at all to slogans like, “Be a good citizen!”, or “Save the planet!”, or “It saves you money!”, but they do respond to “Your neighbors are doing better than you.” Laskey goes on to explain the success story of OPower: a company he and his friend founded that is based on that piece of information. OPower provides personalized reports of a home’s energy use compared to that of their neighbors. From apps to thermostats, OPower provides suggestions and goals to help lower energy use that people actually follow! Energy wasters worldwide are pressured to at least be on par with the efficiency of that of their neighbors, and Figure 1 shows that with every passing year, OPower has been saving more energy with each passing year. In 2013, they saved 2 TeraWatt hours of energy worldwide. For to those eager to know what good that saving can do for the environment, 2 Terawatt hours equates to saving 3 billion pounds of carbon dioxide. All that power saved… due to behavioral science.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re not part of a international corporation bent of saving energy. So how do we as individual citizens put this nugget of advice to use? Well, maybe we could start by telling our neighbor or dorm mates who has a refrigerator of an empty house/room that you and everyone else is using their AC sparingly. And maybe, we could make OPower’s 2 TWh become 2.1 TWh next year.