New low-carbon, web-based service uses behavioral factors to nudge householders to use less electricity.
Welectricity, a free web application for tracking and reducing household electricity consumption, has been launched by startup Welectricity Inc on April 22nd 2010, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
Founder Herbert A (Haz) Samuel, a Caribbean energy consultant, notes that households typically consume a large proportion of total electricity in any country: “So, if we can find a way to have households consistently reduce their energy consumption, even on a small individual basis, collectively that amounts to a large saving on a country basis.”
The idea for Welectricity arose out of Samuel’s observation of a paradox first noted by a nineteenth-century British economist named Jevons. “The ongoing improvements in technical energy efficiency of the devices we use… have not resulted in a commensurate reduction in our energy consumption. In fact, in some cases the opposite has happened” and we are “using more energy than ever before” Samuel points out.
This situation is explained by the rebound effect; an economic theory which says that if the cost of a resource is reduced by better efficiency, people will consume more of the resource than previously, thereby offsetting the efficiency improvement. As an example, Samuel notes the story of a neighbour who never used his outdoor lights at night – until he installed CFLs indoors. Since then, he has been using his outdoor lights, because he knows he now has ‘energy-saving bulbs’ inside – with the likely effect being an overall increase in his consumption. In recent years, a growing body of research has confirmed the effect and suggests that a significant proportion of household energy consumption is directly due to consumer behavior.
Welectricity is designed to target this, by providing users with information, feedback, the ability for goal-setting and social proof; the specific behavioral factors thought to influence consumers to conserve. The service packages these factors into a social network that incorporates the normal functions of social media: users will sign up, set up profiles, invite and interact with friends on a simple messaging interface. On the Welectricity dashboard, a bar graph of the user’s electricity consumption (based on information entered from actual bills) is displayed and the consumption graphs of similar users can be superimposed and directly compared. Samuel notes that “psychologists and behavioral economists have found that social proof is one of the most fundamental and powerful factors that influence people to take action, and this is one of Welectricity’s key features.”
Welectricity is a low-carbon solution that only requires access to an internet-connected computer and some information from existing utility bills. No smart meters or other in-house monitoring devices need to be manufactured, packaged, shipped, purchased and installed for Welectricity to work. This Samuel sees as an important fact. “After all,” Welectricity’s website notes, “what’s the point of using a whole lot of energy to bring you a bunch of new stuff that’s meant to help you use less energy?”
About Welectricity Inc Welectricity Inc is the creator of Welectricity (www.welectricity.com), an innovative, low-carbon web application for tracking and reducing electricity consumption at home. Welectricity is a winner of the 2009 IDEAS Energy Innovation Contest for Latin America and the Caribbean and the development of the service is sponsored by GTZ (German Government Technical Cooperation) and GVEP International (Global Village Energy Partnership). The Inter American Development Bank (IDB) and the Korean Government were also sponsors of the contest.