Introducing the Facebook social energy app

While there’s a good number of green and energy-focused Facebook apps out there, here comes one that looks like it could be a game changer. Energy software startup Opower, in partnership with Facebook and the environmentalists at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), plan to launch a Facebook social energy application next year that will enable users to check out their energy usage compared to friends and national averages and get other energy efficiency tips. The group says they think it could be “the world’s largest social energy community.”

The idea is to use the power of social networking, gaming and competition to get users engaged with ways to reduce their energy consumption. Think if a Facebook could app could bring the social power of Farmville to home energy management.

However, if you remember Microsoft (s MSFT) and Google (s GOOG) both launched similar types of applications (Hohm and PowerMeter), and then ended up killing them off after about two years for a variety of reasons. Developing an effective tool is difficult. Two reasons that these other apps didn’t work is that utilities weren’t convinced to participate (and without utility data the apps weren’t very helpful), and consumers also never really embraced the tools. Will Facebook be able to overcome consumer apathy and slow moving utilities?

Well, bringing Opower onboard will be key to bringing in the utilities. Opower already has 60 utility deals, and the Facebook social energy app will have data from utilities Commonwealth Edison, the City of Palo Alto, and Glendale Water & Power when it launches (other utilities partnerships to follow). The app doesn’t need linked utility data, but it will be more helpful and informative if your utility participates.

Users that decide to participate with the social energy app and also have a utility that is involved, will have seamless energy data uploaded and authenticated to the app, and then the user can see how their usage compares to others, and can participate in competitions and get more tips. You know, everything that all those Facebook apps are good at — keeping users constantly engaged, making the app viral, and changing user behavior. Opower has been working on behavioral analytics for years, and has been one of the only energy management startups that has gained much traction, delivering 2 percent energy reductions for its utility customers.

I’ve been waiting for a substantial social media effort around energy efficiency and fighting climate change for years. If this social energy app can take off and actually engage users, I think it could be a tipping point for getting people to change their energy consumption habits. We’ll see next year if it actually becomes popular and if Facebook can do for energy efficiency, what it’s done for social gaming apps.