Follow the Bills: Earth Aid Software to the Rescue

Earth Aid, a software company that has upended assumptions about online energy websites, insists that chipping away at home energy costs can be fun. Customers establish an account which is connected via the company’s propriety technology to utility information from power, water and gas companies. When your energy bill decreases, you earn reward points towards a restaurant meal, an ice cream cone or a latte from Starbucks.

Earth Aid

To cut energy bills in the past, you might have hired an auditor, or completed online questionnaires about your home. Earth Aid, based in Washington, D.C., with offices in San Francisco and Boston, takes a new approach: enlisting its users as cheerleaders.

“Earth Aid is about sharing openly and actively,” says co-founder and CEO Ben Bixby. The company’s success depends on three factors: people signing on, users sharing information and the rewards program. Earth Aid is used by “tens of thousands” of households in all 50 states, Bixby says, and was named one of “The 10 Most Innovative Companies in Energy” by Fast Company magazine. The company raised $4 million in funding last February from Point Judith Capital, the Clean Energy Venture Group and Capital-E.

Levels of Connection

Not all members choose to connect to their utilities and some users are not able to connect because of a particular relationship between the utility and Earth Aid (though the company is compatible with more than 200 utilities). Users who are not connected will receive tips on reducing energy bills and have access to products and services in the rewards program. Even if you are not connected to your utilities, don’t be surprised if you see a message asking you to “share how savings are going.”

Users who are connected to utilities will automatically receive updated monthly readouts. And Bixby says that as more utilities use smart meters—devices that update readouts—Earth Aid will send the information from the utilities to users more frequently and at higher resolution.

When members purchase products from certain promoted venders, Earth Aid benefits. Bixby says that if you saw a tip about saving money by purchasing a new LED light bulb and clicked through the website to purchase it, Earth Aid may make a commission. The company receives such commissions, he says, “maybe on 50% of the sales.” But rewards partners (those who provide the ice cream and yoga classes) do not pay Earth Aid. And when the company provides tips for reducing energy costs, Bixby says they do not take into account whether they may make a commission.

Tracking and Saving

Earth Aid has been live since 2009 and is rolling out its next generation app without much media fanfare. In fact, as of June, it hadn’t yet officially “launched.” The company has, however, done consulting work with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Commonwealth of Virginia, setting up web portals for the organizations’ campaigns. Earth Aid also assisted the USGBC in having owners of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified homes link up their utilities so that LEED could track the buildings’ actual (not just projected) energy savings. Virginia, meanwhile, urged residents to use Earth Aid to track home energy costs.

There are other energy-saving applications out there: Microsoft has the Microsoft Hohm and Google the PowerMeter , both of which link homeowners and their energy bills by working with utilities. Google has 11 utility partners, six in the U.S. and five abroad, and the free energy-monitoring tool is a project of google.org, the search engine’s philanthropic arm. The company is working on public policy challenges to promote user access to their energy information, according to a spokesperson.

Microsoft Corp. did not comment, but in a 2010 press release, Microsoft and Ford announced that the companies are working together with the utility industry. One future vision of the alliance is for Microsoft Hohm, an internet-based service, to help electric vehicle owners optimize their vehicle recharging needs and better manage the rise in energy demand expected from the surge in electric vehicle ownership.

It’s a different model than the one offered by Earth Aid. “Everyone else goes through the utilities, we go through the users,” says Bixby. Earth Aid is free of charge and there is no software or hardware to be purchased. “You can join us because you want to be supportive of the community, you want to reduce your bills or you want to show others how to do it,” Bixby says. Or join for the ice cream.

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