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Gaming the Way to Energy Behavior Change

What would it take for you to consistently change your home energy behavior? Saving money has not proven to be an effective motivation, higher prices have not been welcome but are not a deterrent. Taking your dog hostage? Public shaming by neighbors standing outside your home?

Changing consumer energy behavior to increase efficiency and grid load balancing has been the Holy Grail for many energy companies. These organizations have engaged in countless studies and pilots to test systems of incentives. The problem is not lack of volition. Most homeowners and renters want to reduce energy usage in the interests of helping the environment and leaving a better future for their children. What’s needed is a motivation that can help us do it consistently.

One approach that has been tested over the last few years is the gamification of energy habits. With the advent of the Toyota Prius, many observers in the energy industry noticed the growing engagement in “hypermiler” behavior, where Prius drivers competed with other family members and other drivers to squeeze the best average miles per gallon number from their car, often rolling through stopsigns to save gas (not recommended!).

Industry analysts took notice and began to suggest motivational and incentive programs to utilities that could help their customers reduce peak load time energy use as well as engage in energy saving behavior that would help their own pocketbooks.

2015 paper written by a team from the ACEEE discussed the opportunity. “Human brains are wired to enjoy the challenges, positive feedback, and social bonding that games provide. The advent of digital technology has simply amplified the hold that games have always had on us. Many younger people are so immersed in games that game mechanics— adventures, avatars, points, badges, virtual currency, and so on—are almost more compelling to them than ordinary life.”

The paper covered gamification efforts by energy related organizations to both educate consumers and to get them to actively change their behaviors. The paper looked at no less than 30 apps that were tried over time, with names like Dropify, Energy Chickens and Energy Smackdown. The results were encouraging enough that the approach is being increasingly studied by the industry. The takeaways for gamification planners include specific audience targeting, measurable objectives, capturing data, breaking down larger challenges into manageable steps and using rewards to keep players engaged.

In Nice, France, a recent gamification pilot program under the EU’s CITYOPT initiative secured good results with a slight twist on the rewards program. The plan and app were developed by VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland. They were designed to change household behavior to shift energy usage to off-peak hours as well as reduce overall load. In return for completing specific suggested actions, such as setting the washing machine to run later at night, the participants receive points that can be designated for specific charities. The points are then converted to cash by the utility and sent directly to the charities.

The tablet application was piloted among 140 households from February 2014 to January 2017. By the conclusion of the pilot last month, 80 percent of the households had reduced their energy consumption.

The advent of smart meters, IoT and big data for analysis of homeowner energy use promises to accelerate the trend by offering the ability for utilities to provide customers with small concrete energy actions that they can take based on known energy consumption at the individual appliance level.



About Tom Breunig (203 Articles)
Tom Breunig is principal at Cleantech Concepts, a market research firm tracking R&D projects in the cleantech sector. He is a technology industry veteran and former international marketing and communications executive who has worked with organizations in semiconductor design, water monitoring, energy efficiency and environmental sensing. He has spoken at numerous technology and energy conferences.
Contact: Twitter

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