My story in this week's print edition of The Economist discusses energy efficiency as a strategy (I know that people keep saying "energy efficiency as a resource," but I find that metaphor slightly frustrating for ontological reasons).

One thing that startled me during the reporting of the story was a comment from EnerPath that 80% of their customers are signed up as cold calls--i.e., by a guy knocking on your door and asking if you'd like a free energy audit. As a Girl Scout, I knocked on a lot of doors hawking cookies, but nonetheless found most of my buyers among friends and family. So EnerPath's number struck me as a pretty big share. But it may be that one of the reasons homeowners don't make simple improvements is that they don't know what the simple improvements are: Which appliances are the real vampires? Which changes have the biggest impact on your bottom line? It's not like the utility is going to tell you. Smart grid technologies could make it a lot more obvious. But again, consumers are somewhat on their own there, as a lot of the utilities are focused on strategies that help them smooth the demand curve, rather than lowering it by selling people less electricity.

The Department of Energy offers some tips for a DIY energy assessment here.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that most of today's Girl Scouts are selling their cookies at stands rather than door-to-door. Nosing around the internet, it appears that this is due to safety concerns--and that the shift has been some controversial in some communities due to zoning laws, permitting issues, and so on. Earlier this year there was, for example, a crackdown in Missouri: "The city of Hazelwood says they do support the Girl Scouts but not when they are violating the home occupancy code." In a victory for advocates of interventionism a clergyman negotiated the peace by buying 36 boxes of cookies.

10/25/2011 11:55

Great article, Erica. Please keep up your attention on this issue, because frankly, it's too important to dismiss. I currently work in IT on energy efficiency tracking software for a large public utility. This is one of the so-called "green jobs" of the future. And yes, we can thank the govt for kick-starting most of it. The smart utilities are already in; just waiting for the rest to step out of the dark. One party in DC is actively trying to kill these programs, and we can't let them do it. I can think of no worse disaster than the preventable one.

10/25/2011 12:19

P.S. The utility will tell you, and they'll also point out some friendly vendors to do the work. The utilities make money by selling you less electricity/gas of which the savings it then sells back to the grid. Yeah, I know, but it's just crazy enough to work and is becoming a big part of utilities' bottom lines.

10/25/2011 14:32

Thanks for the post, Erica. First off, I work for EnerPath and wanted to share a bit of what see by implementing these programs across the US. The fact that consumers behave "irrationally" and do not adopt many economic energy-reducing technologies and practices is a broad and complex topic. However, one key issue is that the energy-efficiency industry has not reached “dominant design”. There is no simple, well-known, standard process to "buy" energy efficiency. It’s like buying a PC in 1980—nobody really knew how to do it. Now the PC industry has reached “dominant design” and you simply go to or Best Buy—everybody knows how to buy a PC. Well, not everybody knows how to buy Energy Efficiency. The industry is pre-dominant design. Engaging prospective customers one-by-on e is a way to educate these customers and make it easy for them to experience the energy-efficiency "offering". This is why it's not surprising that most of our program enrollments result from canvassing communities door-to-door.


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