Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lowfoot Paying You

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "PayPal incentives for 'footprint' reductions".

Even as Earth Hour approaches, the electricity talk is mostly about how much we have to pay. But I’ve found a way for my electric meter to pay me back, and you can do it too, improving our energy situation at the same time!

This amazing new program is called Lowfoot. It’s not a utility or marketer, but a social enterprise. The name refers to the idea of “ecological footprint”, a measure of your personal impact on nature. Burning fossil fuels, over-consumption and waste all increase your footprint. Efficiency, alternative energy and organic practices lower it. You can also lower it by changing how you use electricity, and that’s what Lowfoot is all about. Electricity use has costs we don’t fully pay, so changes can make savings you wouldn’t normally receive. Lowfoot helps correct that by paying you to save.

How does it work? First, sign up to access your smart meter online: grab your electric bill, go to your utility’s website, and follow their instructions. Once you have a password, you can enroll at Give them permission to access your smart meter to check your electricity usage. Then start conserving, and they start paying you. That’s all!

What do they pay you for? Lowfoot accesses your historical usage to set your personalized reduction benchmark. When you beat that benchmark, you accumulate credits. At the end of each month, Lowfoot pays you for those credits via PayPal.

There are three ways to earn credits. The first is the simplest: reduce your total electricity used. The less you use, the less the province must generate or buy. Since electricity is subsidized, these savings reduce provincial expenditures.

The second is a bit more complicated: shift your use from peak to off-peak times, the same way you get time-of-use savings from your smart meter. By reducing peak demand, you save the province having to provide expensive stand-by power, or buy extra power at a premium during costly peak times. Using a kilowatt-hour less on a sunny summer afternoon saves you 10 cents on your bill, but can save the province a dollar or more in real costs. Lowfoot gives you some of that dollar.

The third way is the most complex: reducing carbon emissions. This is calculated based on the electricity supply mix when you use it. Avoid using power when coal plants are burning, reduce your carbon footprint, and Lowfoot gives you credit.

That’s it. To help you earn credits (and money), Lowfoot provides tips on reducing or shifting your electric use. They also let you share your own tips, and even win prizes for the most popular. So why wait? Sign up, conserve, and start earning today!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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