Anand Babu
Courtesy Opower Anand Babu

Nothing motivates quite like friendly competition, and Opower knows it. The 5-year-old company persuades people to save energy in part by showing them how their kilowatt-hours stack up to those of their peers, via targeted mailings. Working in partnership with local utilities, Opower provides customers with personalized insights on ways to cut their energy bills and protect the planet at the same time. The company blends a feel-good attitude with practical information, and the combination is paying off: So far, it has signed up 80 utilities to purchase its services in North America, Europe, and Australia. ECOHOME recently spoke with Opower’s director of product marketing, Anand Babu. How does Opower work?
The main thing we do is partner with utilities to help them engage with their customer base, so the customer can understand how much energy they’re using in ways that are useful and actionable. When the utilities partner with Opower, their customers get personalized context and insights on how much energy they are using compared with similar users. Our mission is focused on reducing energy use.

How do you obtain the information you need to provide personalized insights?
Our tips are based on what we know about the customer and their home. A lot of the data is already in the public domain; we bring it together. This includes information such as the size of the lot, the size of the home, the age of the home. Once we start to engage the customer with that, sometimes they’ll start to add to their own profiles, making them better and richer. For example, they could add what type of furnace they have, or what their energy use habits are. There are two main categories for us: understanding the efficiency of their appliances/insulation/architecture, and understanding their behavior. The more we can learn about these two things, the more information and insight we can provide.

How do you keep customers motivated to keep saving energy?
The most basic thing is that our customers need to be able to trust in the accuracy and reliability of the insights. When a customer has that connection and trust, the engagement is extremely strong. Of course it’s helpful to have new content, so we add seasonal suggestions, etc. Customers get hooked once they start to see that they’re making progress. Maybe they see a reduction in energy use in relation to their peers. Or, if they set a goal and see progress toward it, that’s extremely motivating.

What’s in it for the utilities?
Setting aside energy efficiency for a second, utilities have tried a number of ways to engage with their customers. We’ve found that customers just ignore a lot of these efforts. One thing we’ve found is, personalized energy insights can be a really effective hook in getting customers interested in what utilities have to say.

View EcoHome's previous story on the Opower Facebook app here.