Friday, September 26, 2008

Keeping Up With The Joneses

SMUD has come up with a new way to incentivize customers to conserve electricity: competition.

But not the "Republican party, free market [when it's convenient and doesn't involve Wall Street tycoons], laissez faire" kind of competition, but good old fashioned, "I'm better than my neighbor and I can prove it" kind of compeition.

SMUD is in the midst of a yearlong experiment in which it identified 35,000 homes of similar size and with similar heating systems. Every month, it sends an energy report card to each home, showing the customer how much energy they used compared to the average consumer. Homes in excess of the average get a frowning face, while homes beating the average get a smiley face.

Sounds pretty harmless (and perhaps ind of dumb), no?

Well, not surprisingly, the recipients of frowning faces are sounding off in Chris Bowma's piece in today's Sacramento Bee. They note that it is impossible to make fair comparisons among a disparate group of households, and that SMUD is treating them likd children, etc.

But, SMUD says the effort is working, with energy consumption going down every month as people seek to outperform their neighbors.

Sadly, though, as innovative as this program sounds, no administrative agency like SMUD can pull something like this off without a healthy dose of brueacracy. In the Bee's write-up, the program materials were described thusly:

""Every element of the report was researched, every word and graphic in the report was tested with real customers in home interviews that lasted several hours," Crawford said."

That sounds efficient.