Global Issues TED Conferences

The psychology of saving energy: Alex Laskey at TED2013

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Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Have you checked your email today? Your finances? What about your energy use? Alex Laskey thinks that with just a shift in attitude toward our energy use, we can all save a lot.

Laskey introduces an experiment he ran with his team at Opower. People received one of three different messages on their doors about why they should try to save energy:

– You can save $54 this month
– You can save the planet
– You can be a good citizen

Which one won? None. No one message showed a marked difference. So Opower added a fourth message: Your neighbors are doing better than you.

That one worked. The locals who heard the message that 77% of their neighbors turned down their A/C, Also turned down their AC, creating a marked difference in energy consumption. As Laskey says, “If something is inconvenient, even if we believe it, persuasion won’t work. But social pressure? That’s powerful stuff.”

Every year in the U.S. alone $40 billion of energy is wasted. Laskey projects that by thinking not just about material sciences but about behavioral sciences, we could save 2 terawatts a year — more than enough energy to power every home in St. Louis and Salt Lake City for more than a year.

We can be doing so much better, says Laskey, starting by tapping into the power of social behavior.

Alex Laskey’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on»