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How much energy we consume as individuals and families has long been a private matter. Friends are really not that interested in how much energy we each consume, and in fact the topic rarely comes up for discussion in social circles. In fact, many of us are not even aware of our own energy footprints – we just pay the bills as they arrive.

Software developers at Facebook and OPOWER, a software service business, want to change this. Created in partnership with the Natural Resources Defence Council, a new ‘app’, expected to be available early in 2012, will offer social networkers an opportunity to view their individual energy use levels and to share personal energy usage amounts online with friends.

OPOWER Facebook

Energy usage is the single most relevant measure we can address as individuals looking for ways to reduce the impacts of global climate change. And yet, while we actively engage in discussion of many topics from economics to politics to sports, any discussion of personal energy consumption is off the table. We may feel that some of our energy splurging activities are best kept under wraps, or that our overall energy use profile may detract from our status as responsible citizens. And while this reasoning is understandable, it does little to advance the goal of reducing energy use and maximizing energy efficiency.

Enter the gentle persuasion of peer networking.

By joining Facebook’s social network platform, the NRDC has found a way around the resistance many of us feel about privacy and personal energy use. Downloading the free app is voluntary, and the information users share is restricted to a user-defined network of friends. A “Friend Rank” feature, for example, lets users see how their friends are doing saving energy on a day-to-day basis, while another feature helps users compare their energy use with other people who have similar-size homes.

OPOWER Facebook app

Peer networking is intimately tied to peer-approval. A new generation is fully armed with social networking devices, and calls for accountability in resource use are given voice through information sharing networks. Developers believe that friendly competition will encourage energy-efficiency among participants, and that individuals will benefit from having a national benchmark to compare energy use levels. Users will share ideas and successes within a platform that helps solutions emerge from the grass roots.

As we are seeing in the Occupy Wall Street movement, ideas can spread at breakneck speed through viral social networking. The goal of the new OPOWER/Facebook energy-saving app is to tap into Facebook’s user base of 800 million people and to draw energy usage information from OPOWER’s growing network of more than 60 utility partners.

The NRDC believes that energy-efficiency levels in the US have tremendous room for improvement, and savings. The potential exists for cost savings of over $700 billion in the US alone. And successes in energy-efficiency are mitigating factors in the advance of climate change.

Perhaps one of the significant benefits of this new app is personal empowerment. When we feel powerless as individuals to effect any significant change in the face of global threats such as climate change, it’s understandable that we ignore or find ways to dismiss the threat. With this new energy-saving application, users can see how their individual efforts count. Users can feel more optimistic and empowered by being part of a global effort to make the changes we need without waiting for the top-down leadership that never seems to come.