energy

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All 18 Whitehall departments have posted real-time energy monitors that can be tracked online by the public. The monitors are the result of a David Cameron pledge and the handiwork of eco|Driver. The goal of the meters is to reduce carbon emissions across the government. An example: the Ministry of Justice’s energy consumption info is here.

Overall, the concept is great. If only the U.S. government would import the idea. Still, the U.K. monitors could benefit from a bit of tweaking. eco|Driver tells the Nudge blog that Whitehall energy data can be found on one site (data.gov.uk), but not on one page. Being able to compare 18 department usage patterns on a single page would likely help promote larger conservation successes. In addition, the department energy usage data seems to be measured as aggregate totals, but all departments are not the same size.

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1) Can the phrase “I look forward to receiving your information so I can process your case as soon as possible,” increase successful food stamp applications?

2) The city of Boulder, Colorado, is challenging its residents to be healthy and act sustainably. Hat tip: Kare Anderson.

3) A behavioral economics explanation for sticky prices and celebrity endorsers: We take our cues about price from others. Hat tip: Mostly Economics.

4) Do the new larger bars on your iPhone 4 make you feel better about your reception? Hat tip Pete Novosel.

5) National Geographic on smiling energy bills and friendly competition.

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Uriel Fogué, an architect, design lecturer at the European University of Madrid in Spain, and a Nudge blog reader sends along a great story of interactive learning from his classroom. The lesson relates wisdom of the crowds, feedback, gambling, and solar energy. Quite a combination.

I run a Workshop called Energy Bets at the Universidad Pontificia Javeriana de Bogotá (Colombia). The idea was to explore during two weeks the architectonic opportunities that the use of solar photovoltaic technology entails nowadays.

The students’ assignment was to design in full a building using integrated solar photovoltaic systems. In order to get ready, they had to acquire a basic knowledge of this technology, but instead of a conventional lecture, we chose to nudge them to learn it for themselves. We called the nudge we used “Quinielas energéticas” (Energy Bets) and it worked as follows.

We had installed a solar panel in our office’s balcony in Madrid. There was a webcam monitoring the panel and sending information in real time to Colombia, where it was projected on the classroom’s screen. The idea was to turn the classroom into a simulated energy stock-market. As a pre-requisite for the workshop, the students had to pay a betting fee of around 15$. This was their initial bet in our quiniela (pools). Every morning, at the beginning of the lecture, we made a question concerning the Madrid panel (such as ‘How much energy is it going to catch tomorrow at 12am?’ or ‘How many solar panels like the one we are working with would be necessary to give service to a full electric house with this and that requirements?’). At the end of the lecture, the students had to give an answer, in which they gambled 1$ at least. During each session the students were supposed to find out the information needed to give the correct answer, by whatever means they could use.

The first three days nobody got the right answer. But after the 4th session and for the remaining, there was more than one winner every day and the estimates became so accurate, that we had to consider decimal figures in the answers in order to choose the daily winner. The rules stated that the last, the day person who achieved the highest score of correct answers, would get all the collected money.

Through this nudge-gambling the students became photovoltaic experts in a record time, and were able to use the new knowledge in their architectural designs. On the other hand, this kind of active participation (instead of recieving information or obeying technological mandates, having to looking for it) turned the learning process into a playful, making the technological knowledge an enjoyable topic.

The experience was so successful that it left us thinking whether we could transform the learning of ecological principles into a sort of gambling vice, in which the participants would get hooked to getting the right answers.

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1) Do Republicans respond differently than Democrats when their utility bills tell them how much energy they are using? Hat tip: Danny Vincent.

2) Remember the alarm clock that donates money to organizations you despise when you don’t get out of bed? How about a web site that donates money to those organizations when you procrastinate online. Hat tip: Gilad Buchman.

3) Do cities make signs about neighborhood parking confusing as a way to nudge people to park at meters and free up more space for neighborhood residents? Hat tip: Lou Wigdor.

4) Another web application for scoring your home’s energy efficiency. This one just raised $315,000.

5) PBS special Mind Over Money is available online (filmed, in part, at the University of Chicago).

6) The NCAA makes sickle cell testing the default option. Hat tip: Robert Barricelli.

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A free online service to track energy consumption launches on Earth day. It’s called Welectricty. You don’t need a separate smart meter; just your energy bills. If your friends sign up too, you can compare your usage with theirs.

Addendum: How Welectricity works video is here.

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Cool Keeper is a voluntary program currently offered by Rocky Mountain Power that lets the company adjust your home’s air conditioner on very hot summer weekday afternoons in order to better meet surges in electricity demand. When activated, the company says temperatures in homes rise 1 to 3 degrees. To incentive customers, Rocky Mountain Power offers them $20 a year, and hooks up the device for no charge. Currently about 90,000 people participate.

The Utah legislature passed a proposal making Cool Keeper the default rule for customers, but it was vetoed by the governor. Why?

“I believe the people of Utah will be better served by continued educational campaigns about the importance of energy conservation and efforts to increase voluntary participation in programs such as Rocky Mountain Power’s Cool Keeper than they are by mandating participation with an opportunity to opt-out,” (he wrote in a veto letter).

The governor then promptly enrolled his personal home into Cool Keeper.

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1) A disloyalty card for coffee drinkers. Produced by a really over-confident coffee shop owner.

2) Tech coalition presses Obama to give consumers better access to energy usage information.

3) In Norway, there’s a new word for nudging: Dulting.

4) A self-service bike rental company promotes what it can do for your city in calories burned, money saved, pounds lost, carbon cut, and gas saved.

5) Motivating workers is more complicated than just paying them more.

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1) Self-control and self-admiration are part of a virtuous feedback loop.

2) Humans grossly underestimate the likelihood that someone will give them help if they ask for it. It turns out that others are more willing to help than most think.

3) A North Carolina electric company adopts a version of the Keep the Change program called Operate Round Up. Customers can choose to have their utility bills rounded up to the nearest dollar with the difference donated to area charities. The average donation is $6/year and the company serves about 2 million North Carolinians. So that could work out to about $12 million a year in charitable donations if every customer participated. Hat tip: Colin Smith

4) Virtual worlds give behavioral economists better environments to test models of behavior.

5) First carbon footprints, now water footprints.

6) A healthy behavioral decision isn’t as simple as taking personal responsibility. Hat tip: Jodi Beggs.

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1) Using a web form to register people at your site? Trying to boost conversion rates? Consider a mad libs style form.

2) What behavioral economics can add to the health care debate.

3) Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday asks how nudges can help people save energy. Segment runs 13 minutes.

4) Automatic enrollment coming to Canada?

5) A subscription service for lazy guys that will send fresh socks, t-shirts, and underwear every three months. Hat tip: Raj Shah.

6) In the U.K., casinos require memberships. Once you fill out the paperwork, you have to wait 24 hours before going to the casino.

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Assorted links

1) The behavioral economics explanation for why more poker hands played means less money won.

2) Waiters who compliment customers get three percent bigger tips, on average.

3) Why were adjustable-rate mortgage applications where so misleading during the housing bubble? Because lenders showed post-teaser interest rates that equaled the rates were at the date of the loan closing. In an era of cheap money, this disclosure made loans look really cheap.

4) A version of the Google Powermeter for your exercise and sleep schedule. Hat tip: Mary Zhu.

5) Are you a British Gas customer? Have you gotten EnergySmart yet? Hat tip: Lukasz Walasek.

6) Video of a U.K. panel on nudging.

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