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This screenshot shows a portion of a PSNH energy report comparing electricity usage to similar homes nearby. Such comparisons have been shown to prod people into reducing electricity use.
Thursday, February 27, 2014

PSNH tries a little experimentation to see if it can 'nudge' us into energy efficiency

PSNH, as I reported today in The Telegraph, is launching an interesting little experiment with 25,000 of its residential customers. Half will get extra information about their energy usage, comparing it to their earlier usage, and half will get information comparing it to usage by similar residences in the area.

The latter method of peer comparisons has been shown to get people to cut their energy use, almost without realizing it (PDF of a 2009 study here). It is a classic "nudge" practice - using information to subtly convince people to change their habits.

I like the way that PSNH isn't just implementing this but is running a test of options, to see which, if either, makes a difference. It's like a gigantic focus group in the real world.

This approach is embraced by a lot of tech and design firms - release several variants and see what happens - but it's harder to do in the physical world, as compared to the digital one.