The simplest way to cut down on energy use isn't to build millions of brand-new LEED-certified buildings; it's to convince people to make changes themselves. And sometimes, having access to energy consumption data--and a friendly nudge to compete with neighbors--is enough to get people to do just that. According to a study [PDF ] from the Environmental Defense Fund and energy-management software company OPower, Americans who get better power meter data (from both regular and smart meters) cut energy consumption by an average of 1.8% in the first year.
The study, which followed 750,000 homes in six states, offered home energy reports containing information about energy usage and, most importantly, comparing that data to neighbors' usage.
The result: Homes that received the reports homes slashed energy consumption between 0.9% and 2.9% annually. That sounds like a small amount, but the EDF estimates that cutting residential electricity usage across the U.S by 1.8% would save over 26,000 GWh of electricity, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8.9 million metric tons of CO2 each year (equivalent to the emissions of three 500 MW coal-fired plants), and help households save a combined total of over $3 billion dollars per year on electricity. That's a lot of energy savings just for redesigning a bill.
The whole "compare your energy use to your neighbor" thing has been tried before--it was the basis for the Tidy Streets project , and Microsoft already allows users to do it on its Hohm  website. The Hohm site, which has been around for a year, hasn't taken off yet, but the OPower study proves that it could actually be effective in getting people to be serious about energy consumption.
[Image: Flickr user s_gibson72 ]