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Social media to the home energy rescue

You may remember earlier this summer when Google, Microsoft, and Cisco all dissolved their home energy management offerings. While those were hardly the only options in the market (there are several VC-backed companies that provide similar services), the big-name players made a quite a splash in the media blogosphere. But now it seems that Facebook will be stepping in, and I can only imagine that the hope is to spread the energy behavioral changes to the masses.

On Monday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced a partnership with Facebook and Opower to launch a new initiative that will be available next year. Brandi Colander writes on the NRDC Switchboard blog:

Seizing upon the potential for social networking to influence people’s energy use and behavior, our organizations are working together to launch an application designed to empower people to consume energy more efficiently – in other words enjoy same level of comfort at lower costs… We expect today’s announcement will be one of many collaborations we undertake with Facebook in order to help the company meet its sustainability goals. As a first step, we’re turning to Facebook’s greatest resource, its platform, by empowering people on Facebook to take charge of and improve the way they use energy in their daily lives. One of our primary goals is to move this nation – our utilities, our businesses and everyday citizens – to cleaner, more efficient energy. That’s an aim we have for everyone we engage with, including Facebook.

It’s been interesting to see the varying reactions out there to the announcement, which cover the spectrum from Mother Nature Networker Matt Hickman’s “skeptical but intrigued” to GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher’s “this is a game changer” (literally). She adds, “Think if a Facebook app could bring the social power of Farmville to home energy management.”

I too am curious to see what will happen. On the one hand, it does seem impossible these days to capture anyone’s attention without social media. Last year, Americans spent 25% of their online time on social networking and site blogs. Facebook’s network of 800 million users is unmatched, so it will have a huge reach.

Its success in changing behavior may come down to how heavily Facebook decides to promote these services and whether the services have staying power. Will users be really excited by the initial launch (frankly, I find it hard to imagine some Facebook tweens getting psyched out about looking at energy bill statistics, but hey, who am I to judge) and then fade away, or will there be clever ways to continually engage, and ultimately, result in more energy efficient consumers? Regardless, I imagine there will be helpful lessons for others looking to change energy usage patterns… perhaps companies engaging their employees, universities engaging their student-residents. It’s going to be interesting to watch!

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