When it comes to energy efficiency, knowledge = power reduction

A new White House initiative underscores the notion that more consumers would reduce their electricity consumption, if it was easier to track in real time.

When it comes to energy efficiency, knowledge is power. Actually, more precisely, knowledge is power reduction.

That is rallying cry behind the new "Green Button" initiative launched last week by the Obama Administration. The effort, which could reach at least 27 million U.S. households, was built on the notion that if consumers have ready access to information about how they are using energy, it will help reduce their overall energy consumption.

Last week, nine electric utilities and suppliers went public with their commitment to support Green Button, which will rally around a common technical standard. That is important because it will help provide a common interface for software developers to create applications around. Among the technology companies that have committed to working on Green Button initiatives are Aclara, Itron, OPower, Oracle, Silver Spring Networks and Tendril. There also are a bunch of companies working on Web and smartphone applications including Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, EnergySavvy, FirstFuel, Honest Buildings, Lucid, Plotwatt, Schneider-Electric, Simple Energy and Sunrun.

Utilities that have lined up behind the effort include American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonwealth Edison, Glendale Water and Power, NSTAR, Oncor, Pacific Gas & Electric, PECO, Pepco Holdings, Reliant, Southern California Edison and Virginia Dominion Power.

The notion that people will be more interested in reducing energy consumption if they knew more about how much they are using in the first place is one that I support. But I also am realistic: the fact is that most people are too busy to be proactive at this sort of thing. So, getting energy information has to be easy.

Recent research from ON World supports this thesis.

The research firm's new report, "Home Energy Management: Early Adopter Views & Preferences," found that 66 percent of the 569 people is surveyed were "interested" or "most interested" in smart home energy management services. (Services that take on some of the responsibility for adjustments and alerting homeowners.) More of them, 72 percent, said automation was important, and about 57 percent preferred a smartphone as the interface for their energy information service.

There is also growing evidence that the gamification trend might also play a role in the world of energy efficiency. I recently spoke with Kent Dickson, the chief technology officer of Tendril, which helps consumers compare their consumption habits with those of their neighbors (in aggregate). We chatted about a lot of things but most about how to change consumption, which is really the holy grail when it comes to energy efficiency efforts.

"People have to be aware and they have to care and they have to have some sustained behavior change over time to achieve efficiency," Dickson said.

Efficiency 2.0 is also focused on customer engagement strategies intended to improve energy efficiency. The company works with utilities to create loyalty programs that reward consumers for cutting their energy consumption, said Tom Scaramellino, founder and CEO of the company. In some states, he noted, utilities may be penalized if they can't show that their customers are cutting back on energy consumption.

Efficiency 2.0 is compensated by its utility partners based on how much money it is helping them save. Generally, utility customer can opt-in or opt-out of the program. Consumers earn reward points for energy they don't use or for changing their behavior. Those rewards might be discounts at local stores and restaurants, or with national retail companies, he said.

"We are on the hook to deliver verifiable energy savings, to help meet the goals of both utilities and consumers," Scaramellino said.