It seems to me that the latest trend in home energy conservation is all about keeping up with the Joneses; a little healthy, neighborly competition to motivate homeowners to get their acts together. First I reported on the BrightBuilt Barn
, a prefab home outfitted with an exterior “LED mood ring” that changes color based on energy consumption and production levels. Then there’s the case of Heatseekers
, a stealthy UK energy-surveillance firm that takes the Big Brother-gone-green concept to new (some would say intrusive) heights.
Now, in Sacramento, electric customers
are finding smiley and frowny faces gracing their monthly bills. If a customer is using less energy than his or her neighbors, it's all smiles. If he or she is using more, it’s all frowns (well, due to upset customers, the frowns have been phased out.)
The [Sacramento Municipal] 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 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.
This keeping-tabs tactic is apparently catching on in other cities, including Seattle and Chicago. Would you be glad to see that you’re beating out (or getting creamed by) your neighbors when it comes to energy use? Would a poor “grade” encourage you to try harder? Or is this type of competition plain old pesky?
When reading about this effort and others, I can't help but picture a Cheever-esque scenario where neighborly gossip once reserved for infidelity, alcoholism, and golf scores is replaced with hushed whispers about insulation, thermal readings, and solar tax rebates. It's certainly a sign of the times.