Case Study: Oahu Electricity Customers Save Energy, Money With Gamification App

Some electricity customers on Oahu saved extra energy and money during a 12-week pilot project that combined technology, education, games and rewards to change their electricity consumption behavior.

During fall 2014, software company People Power launched its Presence Pro Energy Program for Oahu to get people thinking about their energy use beyond their monthly bills. Electricity in Hawaii costs two to three times more than on the U.S. mainland because the state imports oil and coal for 90 percent of its power generation, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The program was open to Oahu residents who owned a smartphone or tablet, had home Internet and had more than six months of energy history at the same residence. Program participants received two Monster 100MC Power Plugs and the Presence Pro Energy app-a $300 value-at no cost for the 12-week energy conservation engagement program. Using the app, participants immediately were able to view their historical energy use by month over the previous year. As soon as the Monster plugs arrived in the mail, participants could start monitoring and controlling energy directly from the app.

The challenge was preventing the novelty of the program from wearing out. The program began with one activity per week. Communicating with participants was key to sustaining engagement, as was the competition, which was fueled with the app’s social networking capabilities.

Participants weren’t forced into one communication channel; rather, all communication channels were opened through in-app messaging, push notifications and email to deliver the following interactive games and final survey:

  1. Count all lights, appliances and electronics in the home;
  2. Find the plugged-in appliance that consumes the most;
  3. Find the plugged-in appliance that has the most vampire power;
  4. Thermostat, refrigerator and water heater set it and forget it;
  5. Create a rule for your Monster smart plug and save;
  6. Plant a seed and spread roots in the community;
  7. Energy-efficient appliance and electronics wish list;
  8. Get to know your energy meter;
  9. Study your electric usage profile;
  10. Detecting air leaks;
  11. Lights out; and
  12. Final survey.

These activities allowed People Power to collect valuable participant information: Some participants lived alone, others had families with children, and others had roommates; some participants lived in multifamily dwellings and others single-family homes; some had solar, electric vehicles, swimming pools, pets, etc.

Each situation had its own energy conservation challenges, and having that information allowed for communications and activities tailored to customers’ specific circumstances.

Participation Results

The collective participation rate of the Presence Pro Energy Program for Oahu was 42.5 percent. “Participation” includes activity response rates and active app use. The results exceeded the industry standard of 5 to 15 percent maximum reported response rates for most energy efficiency programs. Some participants responded to every activity, and other participants found that specific activities drove their responses and participation. Participant feedback includes:

  • “This is a great system! Because I travel a lot I can now easily switch off a bunch of my appliances when I leave. Wish I could turn off my hot water heater this way!”
  • “Eye opening indeed!”
  • “This is an excellent exercise. It forced me to learn how the smart meter works and what all the numbers mean.”
  • “You might say the plugs are working like ‘clockwork.’ I love them!”
  • “I really appreciate all the suggestions! It really helps to learn these tips.”
  • “Interesting; you would think if it’s plugged in but not in use, you’re not consuming energy.”
  • “These challenges are really great!”
  • “The lowest bill is thanks to you & Presence.”
  • “This program is a truly positive program in helping us all do our little part in controlling and identifying energy consumption. It has really helped me in reducing some of the high-energy costs. Keep up the great work!”
  • “It has been a lot of fun. Hope to see more programs like this in the future.”
  • “My family and I have learned so much from participating in these learning activities … my family is much more aware of their electricity usage, we were able to cut $100 dollars month off our energy bill.”

In addition to the preliminary energy-savings calculations, 89 percent of participants said the energy savings will last for years. As a result of the program, 74 percent of participants said they are likely to invest in energy savings compared with before the program, and 75 percent are interested in participating in future energy programs. Finally, 47 percent of program participants said they could save 10 percent on energy without sacrificing comfort, and 18 percent said they could save as much as 20 percent.

Background-Starting With What Customers Use

Excitement alone won’t solve the energy conservation challenge. Behavior change is equally important because consumer interest fades fast. Engaging consumers and promoting lifestyle or behavior changes is the only way to drive sustainable energy conservation.

A sensible way to engage customers is to go with what they know. And people generally have their smartphones with them at all times. They like using them.

Using that information, People Power developed its Presence app to deliver free smart home automation with enhanced video security and home energy control. Users can take their spare smartphones and tablets-they might have upgraded models recently-and put their old smartphones and tablets back to work as simple yet powerful home security systems. With the help of some partnerships, users also can control electric appliances remotely with the app and Monster smart plug combination and from their smartphones monitor their homes’ electricity use in real time with TED or Blue Line PowerCost systems.

People Power also studied behavior change with experts from Stanford University Change Labs, whose Deep Change methodology brings out systemic transformation solutions for real-world challenges. When it came to driving energy consumer behavior change, Stanford recommended gamification, the use of game thinking and mechanics to engage users in solving problems and drive behavior change.

Don’t just meet the aggressive utility energy efficiency mandates; exceed them. Start an engaging and lasting conversation with your customers.


Rainer Boelzle is marketing director for People Power Co. Reach him at rainer@peoplepower co.com.

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