Energy efficiency finds its cell phone

Note: This is the first part of a multi-part series on how smart phones are being used to improve energy efficiency among consumers.

Energy efficiency insiders have envied the telecommunications industry for years. After all, it produced the iPhone, Android and other products that American consumers can’t seem to live without.

The telecom industry achieved this level of innovation after it deregulated. The electricity industry deregulated too, but no killer product followed, no technology that rallies consumers and transforms markets.

“Where’s our version of the cell phone?” became a common lament among those in the energy efficiency business. After all, if they could come up with an equivalent gadget -- one that charmed us to manage our household energy flow as raptly as we manage email, texts and cat photos on cell phones -- imagine the energy savings we could achieve.

It turns out the energy industry may have found its cell phone, and it is … well, the cell phone.

Smart phone users can now manage their energy through a proliferation of apps that do everything from help us find energy rebates to reveal the workings of multi-state electricity grids. Many apps spring from the understanding that we are visual creatures: If we see our energy consumption rise and fall on a screen, as it happens, then we’re more apt to shut off the lights when we leave a room.

The planet now has about as many cell phones as it does people. That’s right, 6 billion. And a glance around any coffee shop, subway stop or park reveals that we like to stare at our cell phones. So it’s the logical gadget to use for engaging people in energy management.

Next page: Liking the idea of connecting remotely