Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Electrical Shame

Our electric company seems to have come up with a new way to "help" us save electricity: shame.

Every couple of months, we receive a letter in the mail full of charts and graphs and little boxes quoting specific facts.  The charts rank our energy usage in comparison to our closest 100 neighbors.

Now, the information itself turns out to be interesting but flawed. Our household ranks 64th of 100 and over 2 months we use about 1000 kWh more energy than similar sized houses in our area.  However, most of the houses for blocks around don't hold as many people as ours does. I'd say of the 30 houses closest to us, maybe 5 have a family of 4 people in them.  The rest are 3 and mostly 2 or 1.  We often have 5 or 6 people in the house.

Secondly, of all those 30 houses almost everyone works outside their home.  They leave around 7am and return around 6pm. With a home-based business and homeschooling, we often have 5 of us here most of the day with the lights on, running computers, printers and various other electric appliances.

A better measure of our ranking of use of energy would be a number based on the amount used per person per hour.  Of course that would be incredibly complex for the power company to come up with, so they resort to a quick number and quick comparison.

All of this to say that the "home energy report" from the electric company lacks the details needed to be truly accurate or actually very useful.  But it is filled with insecurity-inducing language and charts.  "Efficient Neighbors (in cheerful green), All Neighbors (calm blue), YOU (dark grey)."  "Your Rank Last Month #64. You rank is improving.  Great job!" "You used 3% MORE electricity that your neighbors."

Somehow it reminds me of a grandmother, "Lily called me to say her granddaughter just quit her job as medical director of the hospital and is moving to Haiti to help support the earthquake victims. Isn't she a nice girl?" Nothing every really says YOU are wrong or has a problem, yet somehow there is a distinct sense of not measuring up.

Freedictionary.com offers this definition for shame:
shame  (shm)
a. A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.
b. Capacity for such a feeling: Have you no shame?
2. One that brings dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation.
3. A condition of disgrace or dishonor; ignominy.
4. A great disappointment

Now that I've rambled on for 6 paragraphs about this, I'm not sure where to go with it. The letter, and the idea that the electric company is spending plenty of time and money sending it out, entertains and fascinates me.
- Isn't it odd that the company that makes their money by selling us electricity is trying to shame us into using less?
- Upon whom is the shame of my family's electrical usage supposed to fall?  Do we bring dishonor, disgrace and condemnation upon our family?  The neighborhood?  The electric company itself?
- What do I actually care how much electricity I use in comparison to my neighbors if I know my family is using the electricity we need without crazy amounts of waste?
- What value is there for us the consumers in the shame mail?  Why not use the gas company's tactic of showing my usage over time so I can detect patterns or notice if there is a sudden rise in my bill.
- Who came up with this idea? Did they really perceive it as a shame campaign?  It would be truly fascinating to sit in a room with the people who devised this plan and understand what their thinking was. Did they get a bonus for it in their performance review this year?

How about you? How does your electric company feels about your electrical performance this month?

1 comment:

The Bug said...

My grandmother was pretty good at that kind of shame. There was this very sad look she had if you missed church. Unfortunately for her it just made me mad & want to miss church more. I wonder if I got such a letter from my electric company if I would want to try to see how BAD I could be? I hope not! Our current bill is very basic with no such frills. I guess they don't care how energy efficient we are :)