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It is clear that people are more likely to make energy-efficient upgrades to their homes if they know they will save money – especially if they see savings in the near future. The obvious changes, such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with cfls and LEDs, upgrading heating and cooling equipment and insulating attic floors, have been obvious for some time.
But people still need encouragement to make the subtler changes that can lower their utility bills and reduce carbon footprints.  It is not just a matter of how many Energy Star appliances people own, but of how they use them.  Using thermostats and other electrical devices more efficiently needs to become a habit.
Encouragement for saving energy is increasingly available to consumers, and in ever more up-to-date formats.
Propelled by government requirements and their own bottom line, utility companies have beefed up their budgets for programs that promote energy efficiency.
 Increasingly available to consumers are mailings, websites, apps, and Facebook and Twitter opportunities from the U.S. Department of Energy, our utility companies and related consumer protection groups.   Budgets for utility customer energy efficiency programs have been increasing because the utility companies want to change our habits and meet their own needs at the same time. They are under increasing pressure to get their customers to use less energy, especially during the black-out prone summer air conditioning season.  They are required by federal and state governments to educate their customers about how to use less energy, and they are concerned about the costs of upgrading their services and equipment when heavy usage exceeds their ability to meet needs.
The two websites below try to influence customers’ behavior by showing how much less efficient their home may be than other homes like theirs and by using financial incentives (deals on local products and services) to encourage behavioral change.
The NICOR program, My Home EQ, is intended to help people make their homes or apartments more energy efficient. (EQ stands for Energy Quotient, “a snapshot of your home’s energy efficiency, measured by gas and electricity use per square foot.”) With just a little information about a home, such as the square footage, style and age, the website shows how much more or less energy-efficient a particular home is than other similar homes.  Also, it shows the potential annual energy savings that could result from making recommended changes.
The CUB Energy Saver (CUB, Citizens Utility Board, is a consumer protection group) uses the homeowner’s ComEd account to track energy usage, provides suggestions for ways to use less electricity, shows how much the homeowner is saving and then offers rewards for energy savings. City of Evanston Sustainability Coordinator Catherine Hurley is enthusiastic about the CUB program, which sends her weekly emails about how much energy she is using in her home. “I like the website because it offers customized advice on how to take simple, low-cost and no-cost actions to save money on my electricity bill and help the environment. And every month the website gives me feedback on how I am doing with my energy savings, which motivates me to continue my energy-saving efforts over the next month,” Ms. Hurley told the RoundTable.
The City of Evanston has partnered with Citizens Utility Board to reduce the City’s overall energy usage. Through the website, participants can cut their electric bill by an average of $200 – and have the chance to win an entire year of free electricity.

Fighting Phantoms

The City of Evanston’s 2012 Earth Day website posting suggests one simple way to start changing habits and making a difference in power consumption:“Fight back against phantom power – Want to save at least $10 a month without thinking? Then go to town unplugging and buy your family some power strips. Phantom power usage plagues every household and some far more than others. A good rule of thumb is that if it has a lighted display, it is using power whether you are using it or not. Things like leaving a laptop plugged in or a video game console not in use plugged in are hiking up your monthly energy bill. So look at last month’s energy bill and then start plugging toasters, microwaves, video game consoles, DVD players and anything else with a light into power strips. Turn off the power strip before bed, or even better, unplug the devices when not in use for the next month and see how much you save!”