Image by @SunishSebastian
Climate change, carbon emissions and the rising costs of energy are pressing global issues that clearly demand not only our attention but also smart solutions.
One of the most sensible solutions to energy conservation is to convince consumers to actively participate from their own households and workplaces; to this end, an effective measure consists of showing consumers that saving energy means paying less on home electricity bills on a monthly basis.
In the past, electric utility companies and governments have mostly utilized awareness and lecturing to push consumers into energy conservation. Extreme measures such as electricity rationing and price hikes have not proven very effective. A more sensible approach involves dollars and sense: by demonstrating savings in a proactive manner, consumers are more inclined to conserve energy in their households.
Gamification and Financial Rewards
By combining smart meters with mobile devices and data visualization, real-time energy savings can be presented to consumers in a manner that is informative, engaging and even entertaining.
Chai Energy, a tech startup based in Southern California, takes advantage of the advanced features of smart meters to help consumers envision their actual household energy use during periods of peak demand, when they are likely to pay higher kilowatt per hour rates. The data is colorfully displayed along with energy-saving tips that consumers can apply on the spot.
The attractive, real-time data visualization provided by Chai Energy’s app is an example of “gamification,” a digital design technique that borrows certain elements from games for the purpose of engagement and motivation. In this particular case, the incentive is both fun and very helpful since it rewards consumers who take an energy conservation approach within their households.
Chai Energy is actually going a step beyond by rewarding energy conservation with cash incentives. In 2014, the company introduced Power Pay Day, a neat program that paid up to $10 per day to consumers who took a proactive approach to conserving electricity. Many other companies across the country are also offering various methods to save energy, including the City of Lethbridge utilities and Apple. This further proves the inherent need for renewable and sustainable energy.
The Power Pay Day mechanism is simple yet very powerful for Southern California utilities. Through its smartphone push system, the app triggers a notification that informs the consumer when a Power Pay Day is coming up. When the notification is tapped, the app displays a few practical tips to save electricity, including:
- Reducing the “vampire load” of a household by unplugging devices such as smartphone chargers, DVRs, cable boxes, etc.
- Unplugging beer fridges when they are not being used.
- Setting the air conditioning thermostat to not run until about 20 minutes before returning home from work.
In the first year of implementation, the Power Pay Day program claimed savings of up to 40 percent during peak demand hours. The free money incentive certainly helped in this regard, but the overall impact is greater since it freed up resources for local utilities struggling to meet energy demand in densely populated regions such as Los Angeles County.
Chai Energy is not alone in providing cash incentives to consumers. In May 2016, German utilities that specialize in the production of renewable energy suddenly found themselves with too much stored electricity, which resulted in a billing quandary. For a few hours in a single day, electricity rates in Germany dipped into negative territory, which means that utilities should have paid their subscribers instead of charging them.
In the end, gamification and cash rewards are excellent ideas in terms of advancing energy conservation. The next step will hopefully involve greater incentives for renewable and clean energy production.