Our Thinking

7% of New Zealand’s electricity goes toward making milk. Can behavioral science help farmers skim off energy waste?

  • By Barry Fischer
  • March 25, 2014

Image credit: Redmart.com

The yearly energy bill for New Zealand’s 12,000 dairy farms is anything but skim. They collectively spend $250 billion a year on electricity — representing 7% of the country’s total power consumption.

But according to the New Zealand government, dairy farmers could knock $42 million off that price tag if they were to adopt a few key energy-saving measures — including heat recovery, variable-speed pumping, and vat insulation.

To raise awareness of the opportunity, the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is taking an udderly clever approach. And they’ve based it on a behavioral science strategy that Opower itself has shown to be a highly effective energy-savings motivator: normative comparison.

In particular, EECA last month released a “Dairy Farm Energy Efficiency Tool” that compares a given dairy farm’s electricity use to other dairy farms in New Zealand. The tool also highlights how a given farm’s use stacks up against the industry’s most efficient players. The idea is that giving energy consumers a normative comparison of their electricity usage can motivate them to save.

EECA’s new Dairy Farm Energy Efficiency Tool shows how a given dairy farm’s energy use compares to similar New Zealand dairy farms

Does this kind of data-driven energy comparison seem familiar? It does to us. We were excited to see EECA’s new tool tapping into the same type of “neighbor energy comparison” framework made famous by Opower’s Energy Reports. Every year, Opower delivers tens of millions of Energy Reports to households and businesses worldwide to give them personalized analysis, context, and advice on their energy use.

Example of a “neighbor energy comparison” from an Opower Energy Report

Opower’s pioneering use of behavioral science — drawing upon strategies like normative comparison, commitment-setting, framing, prompts, and many other tools — has to date helped utility customers save more than 4 billion kilowatt-hours of energy. We hope that New Zealand achieves similar success in using behavioral science to help its dairy farmers skim off excess energy costs.

To read more about how one of New Zealand’s leading utilities, Mercury, is already seeing positive results from deploying behavioral energy efficiency measures, check out our blog post from last week, “New Zealanders on track to save $2 million through one very smart program.”

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