The smart grid. The tying of your home energy usage more directly to your utility, allowing you and them to co-develop a plan which provides for more maximized energy usage patterns and potential savings on your monthly energy bill. It is a technical challenge to enable such communication and solutions from end user to utility, so a wide array of companies have sprung up to assist in this endeavor. One of those is OPOWER.
OPOWER describes itself as offering a “platform [that] enables utilities to connect with their customers in a highly targeted fashion, motivating reductions in energy use, increased program participation and overall customer satisfaction.” A good number of the large utilities use this platform to help their customers reach what is said to be better energy savings, while helping the utilities themselves better understand the energy usage patterns of their end users, especially around ideas like peak load reduction. To get a better grasp of the OPOWER solution, we turned to co-founder and president Alex Laskey for some answers.
EarthTechling (ET): What’s the backstory to OPOWER? How did it come into existence?
Alex Laskey: OPOWER was founded on a simple premise – that it’s time to engage the more than 300 million Americans who are in the dark about their energy usage. Dan Yates and I co-founded OPOWER because we believe that information can improve people’s lives. We created a company to empower people to make smarter decisions about the way they use energy, and that, in turn, could help us all conserve scarce natural resources and preserve our planet in the process.
When we founded OPOWER in 2007, the energy discussion was focused on cleaner production and the use of renewable resources, like sun, wind, and biofuels. Dan and I knew that, while renewables are critical to the future of the country and the world, they’re not viable solutions in the near term. The answer to solving America’s energy challenges and curbing carbon emissions in the here and now lies in all of us wasting less energy.
As we researched and discussed ways of doing that, we discovered the fact that approximately 1.4 billion utility bills are mailed to customers each year. These offer dry, often unintelligible data to people, rather than information they can use to make decisions about energy use. We recognized their potential: they were the perfect vehicle for engaging millions of households with information about energy efficiency.
We met with Dr. Robert Cialidini, a renowned behavioral scientist, whose academic research considers methods of prompting people to change the way they use energy at home. From those conversations, we developed our prototype Home Energy Report, and we’ve been growing ever since. OPOWER now works with 45 utilities across the US, including 7 of the ten largest. We’ll soon be delivering Home Energy Reports to more than 5 million homes in North America.
ET: How exactly does OPOWER’s platform work with regards to consumers?
Laskey: The OPOWER platform helps utility customers clearly understand the ways they use energy every day, and how that compares to what their neighbors do. We combine contextualized energy information with individualized efficiency tips related to the ways they use the most energy. Through this, we help people understand how simple changes in behavior can lead to significant savings in terms of both money and energy.