Will Turning Energy Consumption into a Game Help Us Adopt Greener Habits?

‘Gamification’ is a term that has some environmentalists excited. They hope that apps that both monitor our energy consumption and benchmark it against our peers will nudge us towards turning down the thermostat and potentially saving the planet. There is also significant potential for utilising the so-called ‘internet of things,’ such as app-controllable thermostats, in this regard. However, the issue of privacy remains a concern for some. With entry-level prices having fallen below US$100, smartphones are becoming ubiquitious in many parts of the world, particularly among young adults. Almost a billion of these devices were sold during 2013 alone, together with 185 million tablet computers. According to think-tank the Pew Research Center, 58% of American adults had a smartphone as of January 2014 – among those aged between 18 years and 29 years, this figure rose to 83%. There is also a nascent market for autonomous wearable electronics (such as smart watches, which can also use apps), with close to a million of these devices sold worldwide during 2014.

Global Volume Sales of Smartphones, Tablet Computers and Autonomous Wearable Electronics: 2008-2013

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics

As a result, the potential audience for apps has exploded, unleashing a wave of digital creativity. Green gamification (the use of games to make sustainable consumer behaviour fun and rewarding) is an emerging trend in this regard. Nest, a maker of app-controllable smart thermostats that was acquired by Google during early 2014, has particular potential. Meanwhile, smaller players like Opower provide households with data on how much energy they are consuming and compare this data with others. It also alerts them if they are close to any new milestones.

Giving Consumers a Nudge

In a sense, green gamification is analogous to the use of activity-tracking wristbands like Fitbit to become less sedentary. Speaking to website SolarEnergy.net in January 2014, Adam Ajzensztejn of consultancy IDC Energy Insights said that the aim of gamification was “to provide a gentle nudge to what may be mundane or low priority, light up the path and make the experience more engaging and fun.”

Social Sharing the Holy Grail

Website Energynerd.co.uk observed: “Your energy app could keep you on track to reduce your energy consumption by 2%. Push notifications could keep you informed of new products and ways to reduce energy consumption, along with other data like weather. The Holy Grail is to get you to connect your energy usage with your friends, allowing you to compete with one another.” Social media also have a role to play by helping to engender a sense of competition and peer pressure: ”If you posted that you had saved £70 this year by reducing your energy consumption, your friends would be more likely to ask how you achieved this,” it added.

Privacy a Potential Concern?

There could be privacy implications regarding how data on the energy use of consumers is shared online, but the more prosaic matter of rising energy bills is likely to weigh more heavily in many households. As a result, consumer interest in these apps is likely to grow virally as awareness spreads and they become more sophisticated and user friendly. Perhaps one day posting one’s energy consumption on Facebook could become as commonplace as posting one’s progress in such games as “Candy Crush Saga”?

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