Utility joins with Facebook

Glendale Water & Power will be one of the first utility companies to join a pilot program featuring a first-of-its-kind Facebook application that will allow roughly 4 million energy users from California to Chicago to create competitions and share insight about their energy consumption on the social networking site.

The idea is that by tapping the same social gusto that users apply to other Facebook tools, the utilities will get their customers fully connected to the potential of energy conservation.

“It’s like Farmville, but really for energy,” said Glendale Water & Power spokeswoman Atineh Haroutunian.

Facebook, environmental advocacy group National Resources Defense Council, and Opower, a company Glendale already works with to anonymously compare energy use neighbor-to-neighbor, partnered to create the application.

Glendale is able to track energy use in real-time because it recently replaced analog meters with smart meters, devices that collect energy information digitally.

“We really believe this will actually help spur the conversation around energy efficiency and hopefully changes people’s habits,” said Marcy Lynn, Facebook’s sustainability manager.

Starting this winter, Facebook users can use their log-in and utility account numbers when visiting www.social.opower.com to access energy data of similarly sized homes across the country. They can then compete with Facebook friends as they try to drive down their energy costs.

Users will also be able to create teams and share energy tips. All of the activities will then be automatically posted on their Facebook profiles and show up in newsfeeds, an information stream that chronicles what Facebook users are doing.

“We thought, ‘Let’s get energy conversations into the place where people are already having these types of conversations about what they’re doing or eating or where they’re going,’” said Wayne Lin, product management director at Opower.

Glendale customers already get anonymous reports by Opower in the mail that compare their energy use to similarly-sized homes nearby. The new application will only share as much information as users allow it to share, Lin said.

Brad Spirrison, managing editor of www.appolicious.com, which rates mobile apps, said the game-oriented nature of the new application, temporarily named Opower Social Energy App, is a good idea since competition excites users.

But as with all things social media, he said the key to its success will be its popularity.

“The worst thing that can happen is there won’t be enough people to take advantage of it,” he said.

Facebook’s announcement about the application had more than 98,000 “likes” on Friday.

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