Social networking and energy conservation: What went wrong?
By George Musser | Apr 14, 2011 08:00 AM | 13
It was a match made in geek heaven. Combine the hottest online
activity—social networking—with the biggest environmental
challenge—energy conservation—and you get something yummier than
peanut butter and chocolate. It's not just a mashup of buzzwords,
either. Most of us pat ourselves on the back about our energy-saving
ways. Sure, we have our vices, but doesn't our routine greenness make
up for the occasional slippage, be it bright kitchen lights or an
extra degree on the thermostat? Only by talking to neighbors and
friends might we discover we aren't so virtuous after all.
That's what social networks could be good for. People's competitive
instincts might well be the country's biggest energy source. Also,
there's so much confusing and conflicting information out there that
it would help to be able to share our experiences of what works and
what doesn't. In the past couple of years, a number of sites sprouted
up to meet this demand.
And now they're withering away one by one, reports energy blogger
Chris Kaiser at Map-A-Watt. He should know. Kaiser started to build a
platform to share energy statistics; I tried out a beta version last
summer. Then he had to pull the plug. Wattzy turned out the lights in
October, and Hug Energy blew a financial fuse in January. The latest
victim is Microsoft Hohm—an awkward Microsoftian name for a promising
approach that I will miss.
Only a few sites remain:
Google Powermeter automatically downloads your energy usage from a
home energy monitor or, depending on where you live, your utility. You
can share the info with friends, if they care, which frankly they
probably don't. The main use, for me, has been the ability to monitor
my solar generation from work. You can hack Powermeter to show
gas-meter readings, if you have the right kind of meter.
Read Your Meter has the distinct advantage of recording gas as well as
electric usage. Despite what the name might suggest, though, it
doesn't do the reading—you do. You have to type in the data from your
utility bills manually. Energy Guy is much the same thing without the
Welectricity also requires you to type in your data manually. I've
found it quite buggy; I kept encountering broken links. Only 227
people in the whole country have signed up for it so far. (If you do,
friend me; my userid is gmusser.)
OPower and Tendril (through its acquisition of GroundedPower) provide
social-networking software to utilities for them to turn around and
provide to their customers. At least, I think they do—their Web sites
are incomprehensibly thick with bizspeak. I'm hoping to talk with Paul
Cole at Tendril next week and will post my findings.
I'm not quite sure what is going wrong, but my hunch is that people
would sooner divulge their salaries than their energy stats. Or maybe
they just don't know their stats. If you fall into this category, get
yourself a real-time energy monitor. Point being, the technology is
out there—what lacks, for reasons good or bad, is the willingness to
use it. As always, let me know your thoughts and experiences in the
comment fields below or on Twitter.
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