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Facebook, OPOWER partner on 'social energy' app

John D. Sutter, CNN
An upcoming Facebook app from OPOWER lets you compete to use less energy than your friends.
An upcoming Facebook app from OPOWER lets you compete to use less energy than your friends.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • OPOWER announces a Facebook app to socialize energy use
  • Friends can compare energy consumption, compete to improve
  • The free app is set to release early next year
  • NRDC: More info helps consumers make smarter energy decisions

(CNN) -- Add energy consumption to the laundry list of things you can share with online friends on Facebook.

OPOWER, a company that uses game mechanics to encourage people to use less energy in their homes, is working with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council to create an app that will let people share data about how much -- or little -- electricity they're using at home.

The app is expected to be available early next year, according to Facebook and OPOWER.

"It's not that sexy of a topic. People don't spend a lot of time thinking about their energy use -- so we're really excited to bring this conversation to life" with the upcoming app, said Marcy Scott Lynn, who leads sustainability programs at Facebook.

The hope is to get friends to compete against each other to use less energy, and to hold each other accountable for energy-use-reduction goals, said Ogi Kavazovic, a spokesman for OPOWER.

"A person in London could compete in energy usage with a person in California," he said.

A feature called "Friend Rank" lets Facebook friends see who in their social network uses the least energy per day. Another lets the app's users compare themselves to people who have similar-sized homes. The app also will let people compare their energy use with the Facebook community at large.

"People will be able to benchmark their home energy use against a national database of millions of homes. All benchmarking will be done on an aggregate level, ensuring complete data privacy," OPOWER said in a statement.

The app will automatically upload energy consumption data if a person approves that functionality.

"Everything you do related to this app will be a choice in terms of whether or not you choose to sign up for it; what you choose to share, if anything; how much of it gets published to your news feed; or whether you share it with your friends or invite your friends to use it," said Lynn, from Facebook. "It's entirely a choice model."

The Facebook app essentially builds on how OPOWER already works. The company uses smart meter data from 60 utilities in the United States and the UK to give customers more detailed information about the energy they're consuming. Bills from OPOWER, for example, tell people how their monthly energy use compares to their neighbors, on average.

If they're doing well, or beating the average, customers get a smiley face on their bills.

It's a subtle effort to promote do-goodery, but the company says it's effective at getting people to use less power.

An average OPOWER customer uses 2 to 3% less energy, CEO Dan Yates told CNN last year.

NRDC, the environmental group, says the app will offer energy savings tips for users.

The point is to give people more information about how they're using electricity, said Jenny Powers, an NRDC spokeswoman.

"Right now you get your electricity bill and it's just one big charge and you have no idea what that means or how you can compare it with others," she said. "This sort of thing finally makes it relevant -- puts it into perspective, and offers solutions about how you can go about cutting that bill back, without losing any of your everyday comfort."

OPOWER's network includes about 55 million homes, Kavazovic said. A person's utility must sign up with OPOWER and approve the Facebook app in order for the customer to activate the service.

The app could make these kinds of services more popular, Powers said, causing a "snowball effect" in which more utilities will want to sign up.

"In every other part of our daily consumption, we're able to find good deals -- coupons at the supermarket, sales at the hardware store. But we never catch a break on our electric bill," she said in an e-mail. "This app will collectively empower people to find their own hidden deals right within their bills."

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