The Ontario election is over, and neither of the parties promising a lower electricity price won. Now the news reports rates will increase a little on Nov 1, and a lot over the next 20 years. But you can still lower your own electricity costs right now. Back in the spring I told you about Lowfoot.com, a company that pays you to save electricity. Since then they have grown by leaps and bounds, and moved on to their second phase of operations – selling negawatts.
You have probably heard of megawatts, a unit of energy. “Negawatts” are a unit of energy saved – a negative watt. The cheapest electricity, with the least ecological harm, is what you never produce, because it’s not needed. Economic studies continue to show negawatts (conservation or efficiency) cost less than any new electricity supply: renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear.
But since governments and utilities have been slow to adopt this concept, private companies are starting to fill the niche. Toronto’s Lowfoot, launched in 2010, is a pioneer. They access your smart meter records to see how much electricity you normally use. Then, if you meet monthly conservation targets below this baseline, they pay you! You win when you use less electricity overall or shift your use from peak times to off-peak. Either way, you’re saving the province the cost of building new generation, lowering your own bill, and pocketing a tip.
But who’s paying? That’s the new part. Since this summer, they have been selling these “negawatts”, or saved electricity, to sponsors concerned about their own footprint. After reducing their own energy demand, sponsors offset remaining use by paying you to use less. Your diligent efforts to shrink your footprint earn you cash rewards. It’s like saving money twice by saving electricity once.
Sponsors so far have included software outfit Bluenotion, marketing company Hypenotic, law firm Baker & McKenzie, and enviro-job service WorkCabin. Each has bought negawatt savings from Lowfoot members like me.
There’s nothing to lose by signing up – no cost to join, and no penalty if you don’t make your target. But when you do save, you profit.
Another Toronto outfit called the Climate Shop has a similar program, except you earn either Aeroplan miles or donations to the United Way in your name. Myself, I’ll take the cash.
Lowfoot has rapidly expanded their market, from the initial 2.4 million eligible households in Ontario to over 5 million in northern California, over 6 million in Texas, even thousands in Alberta (a.k.a. Texas north), and soon millions more in BC. You could be the next client to do well by doing good through this Canadian innovation. Help the Earth, save money, get paid – get to it!
Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Reduce your use and get paid in the process"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer and politician.