Want to bet that you can lower your energy bill?

  • By Barry Fischer
  • September 6, 2012

A new viewpoint article published this week in the MIT Technology Review proposes that if you want to achieve your personal goals (such as becoming more energy efficient), then you may want to consider pulling out your wallet…and betting on yourself.

The article highlights the approach being taken by a new company called GymPact, which allows people to bet on their ability to work out at the gym (or run/walk) a certain number of days per week. If you slack off and miss a workout, you get penalized (e.g. your credit card is charged $5). But if you meet your gym-going goal, then GymPact pays you a small prize. The money that’s awarded to the gym-loyalists comes out of the pool of money accumulated from the slackers. With this incentive framework in place, the company reports that 86% of people who enroll in GymPact end up doing the workouts they commit to.

Underlying the GymPact motivational model is a key principle in behavioral economics, called “loss aversion.”  The principle says that people hate losing something even more than they like winning it. The chief scientific officer at Gympact explains the concept: you’d be excited if you reached in your pocket and found an extra $10; but that excitement pales in comparison to the frustration you’d feel if you expected to find $10 in your pocket, but instead reached in and found a hole.

The behavioral-science underpinnings of GymPact immediately struck a chord with the Outlier team. Here at Opower we are constantly thinking about how different kinds of “nudges” can encourage people to achieve their energy efficiency goals. For example, we have found that telling people how their monthly energy usage compares to the average usage in their neighborhood prompts them to conserve energy, though a sort of peer pressure mechanism.

Do you think the GymPact model really works? Would it work for setting and meeting energy conservation goals? Would you bet on your ability to use less energy in 2013 than you did in 2012?

About Outlier

Outlier explores trends in how people are using energy in the US and around the world. Pulling from an unprecedented (and still growing) amount of energy data—currently drawn from 50 million homes—Opower crunches energy-use information from more than 90 utility partners every day, and cross-references that with weather, household, and demographic information to produce compelling analyses in the Outlier series.