A host of startups are helping users save energy, from Opower’s energy reports to the smart thermostat from Nest Labs. But Simple Energy cofounder Yoav Lurie thinks users – despite their good intentions – need more motivation.
“The premise in much of the industry has been if you present the data, they will come,” explains Lurie. “But after an alarmingly short period of time, people stop caring about energy data.”
So Simple Energy has gamified energy saving, with advice from PhD and motivation expert Dan Ariely. Their online platform lets users compare their energy use to their Facebook friends’, after normalizing it for home size, number of occupants, and weather. Leading savers can earn badges, points, and real-life prizes like gift cards and iPads. This idea earned Simple Energy a spot in TechStars Boulder 2011 and $900,000 in seed funding, as well as a spot at our Tech Cocktail Boulder mixer.
Rather than sell to consumers, Simple Energy is targeting those with a pressing incentive to save energy: utilities, which are facing government regulations related to energy efficiency and demand response. Cofounder Justin Segall has worked with utilities before, selling renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.
Besides gamification, Simple Energy is aspiring to make energy data relevant to users. Lurie previously worked on Recovery Act spending tracker Recovery.gov, whose most popular feature was the ability to input your zip code and see nearby government spending.
“We were posed with this great challenge: how do you make an incredible amount of government spending relevant to real people, and make it understandable how it affects their lives?” says Lurie. One of the ways Simple Energy makes data relevant is specific energy-saving tips, like turning down thermostats and changing light bulbs.
Simple Energy is working with utilities in Southern California, Texas, and the Southeast,] and hopes to land a national customer and start charging per kWh saved, rather than per user. “We’re not quite there yet, but when we get there, we’ll be the most cost-effective energy efficiency program available,” says Lurie.
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