Commentary: Who's Best at Conserving?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, October 3, 2008

SMUD randomly selected 35,000 residential customers, tracked their electricity use and then compared their use with one hundred of their neighbors. Since April, customers chosen for the comparison have received a monthly score card that shows how much electricity they used, the average amount used by their neighbors, and the average use of the twenty most efficient neighbors surveyed.

Besides the score card, the test group received energy saving tips specifically tied to their customer profile. For example, if the report showed an unusual summer spike in their energy use, SMUD might suggest the customer check to see if their air conditioning system needed repair.

Some of the targeted customers complained they felt guilt-tripped. But the experiment is having its intended impact. Score card recipients have cut energy use by 2½% per month, on average.

The benefits go beyond the customers tested. Conservation is the cheapest, most environmentally responsible way to stretch limited electricity supply. The more utilities persuade customers to use less, the better they are able to keep our lights on and our rates low.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.