Weekly Update

Could Social Media Help Home Energy Management?

Add smart meters to the gaggle of celebrities, businesses and everyday people that are vying for an online following on social networks.

Last week, the University of Mississippi revealed a plan to one-up the Tweet-a-Watt, a mash-up of the venerable Kill A Watt energy measurement gadget and Twitter.  Partnering with smart meter startup SmartSynch, the school is working on providing energy consumption updates to students and faculty with data generated by 16 smart meters installed across several campus buildings.  The point of this particular exercise is to educate and build awareness, but there are broader implications to connecting smart grid technology with social networks.

Look at Facebook today, and sure, there are widgets that preach the merits of recycling and some that size up your carbon footprint. But by and large, they are limited in their capacity to influence behavior and effect change.  That can soon change as smart meters proliferate and more consumers develop a knack for using Web-enabled home energy management software.  Enterprising app developers will dip into this potentially deep well of energy information to benefit smart grid players and customers alike.

Karen Jaskolka, Microsoft Hohm’s Group Program Manager, recently posted an update on how her team is calibrating the service and honing its interface, feature set and energy profiling models.  The trouble with these early stabs at improving Web-based home energy management platforms is that they involve the tried and true method of soliciting feedback, which not everyone is inclined to provide.

A Hohm-based Facebook app could expose the service to a larger pool of potential participants and create another avenue for gathering and evaluating data, allowing Microsoft to gauge the effectiveness of its design decisions faster and enhance the accuracy of its energy models.  An added bonus is geographical and demographic data, which many users already volunteer via their pre-populated profiles.  It doesn’t have to be a one-way arrangement either.  Users can be treated to automated status updates that broadcast their energy savings and carbon reduction statistics, encouraging conservation or at least building interest among their followers.

Twitter, too, holds promise. Until demand-response systems become the norm, utilities that use time-of-use pricing models can tweet reminders, encouraging customers to shift their electrical workloads and help the utility realize energy savings (if not consumers just yet). Twitter could also be used to enhance the stability of the grid by communicating alerts to customers. A single tweet could prompt a sizable number of customers to turn off a device or two, thereby blunting demand spikes and averting power disruptions.

Some utilities and smart grid firms have already dipped their toes in the social networking scene, largely for promotional purposes. The real value comes from exploiting the two-way communication, data-gathering opportunities and wealth of demographic information that these networks already provide.  One startup, Efficiency 2.0, is already banking on the value of the latter.

Companies that tailor their apps and services for the social-networking set will be among the first to learn and profit  from the intersection where energy data and consumer behavior meet.  For social networks, the smart grid may represent another business opportunity to explore.

Question of the week

How can Facebook and Twitter integration motivate consumers to manage their energy use?