Conserving Energy: My Friends Make Me Do It

Clive Thompson (8/15/07, Wired magazine, “Desktop Orbs Could Reform Energy Hogs“) suggests that we could effectively reduce energy consumption if our daily energy consumption was apparent to all of our friends on a site like MySpace or Facebook or sent it to our friends through an RSS feed.

Friends might compete to be more eco-friendly.

Thompson notes that such of eco-feedback mechanisms already work: hybrid-car owners try to maximize their energy efficiency through on-board real time dashboard displays showing instantanteous gas mileage.  Electricity company NStar notes that when customers have monitors that display real time energy use across their appliances, they change their behaviors and average 15-25% less energy consumption.

This suggested approach marries the use of feedback mechanisms with the power of social norms, and threatens to ostracize people who drive hummers or fail to replace their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones.

Thompson writes:  “it could spawn a cascade of conservation. It’s fun seeing your personal energy tab go down by kilowatts — but just imagine watching the world’s usage plunge by terawatts or petawatts. It would be like a global Prius, with millions worldwide tweaking the Earth for maximum mileage. Now that’s fun.”


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