Rewards Program for Energy Efficiency Actions

An ambitious program to get communities to save energy, using a web app to monitor their savings and to obtain rewards from program participants for efficiency achievements, the SouthCoast Energy Challenge aims to get Massachusetts communities to compete against each other to achieve efficiency goal achievements. The Challenge aims to get 15% of households to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption by 15% over three years. The Challenge aims to work with 35,000 homes and debuted on August 5 in the seaport town of New Bedford Massachusetts with 200 participants.
Initiated by one individual who brought his idea to the attention of a local non-profit, the Marion Institute, which brought in the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance and a variety of university and planning groups, the Challenge offers participants an online application where they record and calculate their energy savings over time. Attainment of levels of savings entitles the participants to rewards through the EarthAid application, which tracks energy use and efficiency actions.
Efficiency improvements are tracked through several categories including home, travel and food. The first home step is to get a no-cost home energy assessment from a MassSave Home Energy program home performance contractor. Then, steps to track utility savings, calculate Co2 footprint, turn down the water heater thermostat, insulate the hot water tank and pipes, adopt cold water laundering and recycling, signing up for their utility’s green energy program, eliminating "vampire" phantom power loads, and hang drying laundry are outlined with their power savings for each participant.
Travel actions include eliminating idling your car, checking tire pressure, using mass transit, and keeping to the speed limit. Again, with each step dollar and CO2 emission savings are listed and checked off when applicable. Food actions include composting and buying locally made food.
The Earth-Aid tracking and rewards application is joined through a social account. Participants sign up, link their online utility accounts, track their progress and become eligible for rewards. The app reads your meter and provides an online energy budget - the more energy you save the more points you earn. Points can be redeemed for rewards from local participating businesses and brands.
Earth Aid, which links to over 200 utilities, has been called the of home energy management. Rather than rely on an in-home smart-meter or a program where the information is delivered through a meter in partnership with the utility,such as Google's failed Powermeter and Microsoft's abandoned Hohm, Earthaid partners with the homeowner, delivering his utility data in a digestible form, with graphs and recommendations. When asked if people would participate in the program just to get the rewards, EarthAid CEO Ben Bixby said "Whether is important for you to save energy and the rewards are a bonus or if it's important for you to just win awards, the outcome is the same. We're trying to build an app that serves all people. Those that are green already and people that are just trying to save money for the fun stuff in life."
SouthCoast Energy Challenge registered businesses offering rewards include a local farm, a coffeehouse and a printing business. The South Coast Energy Challenge offers one Earth Air reward point for every kilowatt hour of electricity saved or for every 10 cubic feet of gas saved of for every 20 gallons of water saved. The participant sees savings on a dashboard displaying consumption data, detailed statements from all utilities, a comparison to utility usage in the nation, state, or zip code, or against other individual participants.
The Challenge organizers think they can save $26 million in the region. Karen Malcolm, Southeast Environmental Education Alliance marketing coordinator Karen Malcolm said "our work is to shift the understanding of the broader community so that more and more people take that first step of a home energy assessment, and do on-ground follow through with them. Farm owner and reward participant Derek Christianson saw his participation as leading to more customers - "it's a way to communicate to your patrons...that this is something that you take very seriously."
The SouthCoast Energy Challenge website says "We see a future where SouthCoast families are healthier, our air and water cleaner, and we are more thoughtful energy consumers." Through programs like these the word about energy efficiency is being spread throughout communities. Does energy efficiency come from the bottom up, with small changes made by consumers leading to major changes in the countries' energy regimen, or from the top down, with utilities' programs persuading consumers to be more efficient? Energy efficiency programs are trying both approaches – and perhaps they both are needed.

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I am a Seattle-based writer. Energy efficiency and the achievement of human potential are my goals. I have worked as a legislative aide and a database manager, and recently started building a money- and energy-saving household goods online store featuring sensible and affordable home environment solutions including ENERGY STAR qualified products. Contact: Twitter: @Greenbespoke @SaveWattsatHome