Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Keeping up with the Jones

A frowny face is not what most electric customers expect to see on their utility statements, but Greg Dyer got one.

He earned it, the utility said, by using a lot more energy than his neighbors.

The district had been trying for years to prod customers into using less energy with tactics like rebates for energy-saving appliances. But the traditional approaches were not meeting the energy reduction goals set by the nonprofit utility’s board.

So, in a move that has proved surprisingly effective, the (Sacramento, California) district decided to tap into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors.

Last April, it began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces on their statements. “Good”

“As Americans, we are good at entertainment and competition,” Mr. Kelley said. “It’s why on ‘American Idol’ they get 40 million voters. It’s the part of this culture that people really understand, and we should be harnessing it.”





Score one for the psychologists.

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