Battle of the Bulbs

Battle of the Bulbs


For the past five years, dorms across the University of Chicago have taken part in “The Battle of the Bulbs” to compete on who could get the largest decline in energy usage. From a baseline and year-by-year measurements, the school challenged itself to see who could save the most energy and “do it in the dark” for one month. There were independent informational meetings, self-policing, and student produced fliers all arising from the simple leaderboard measuring which dorm could save the most energy. The game produced results, with 30% decreases in usage in some cases. Now, consumer groups and utility companies seem to just now be catching on to what clear usage information and the power of games can mean to conserving energy.

This year, the competition introduced the support of Cisco’s Pulse Energy with an illustrative dashboard that broke down student efforts into day-long pieces. In near realtime, participants could examine their usage statistics and strategize on how to decrease usage further. With the innovations in the nation’s smart grid, and corporate efforts such as Pulse Energy, the ability to role out these challenges on a consumer level are just becoming a reality.

In a post published this week, smart grid expert, Christine Hertzog, asked the question, “Will Gamification be the Biggest Smart Grid Game Changer?” She sets out a few hypothetical examples where gamification can provide the perfect tools to overcome difficult challenges of education and enrollment, “Rewarding ‘players’ through a series of simple games for achievement can motivate them to actively seek information and recruit more players when rewarded for that.  Players earn points for participation based on the game objectives. End result – consumers become promoters of the DR program, and peer-based recommendations for participation in the DR program causes enrollment to surge.”

Beyond just providing information, these types of games and challenges provide powerful social incentives to take part in conservation. There is an untapped space in the consumer market to roll out these games and make every household into a team fortress of energy savings. From my own experience in taking part in Battle of the Bulbs, the teamwork necessary of banding together and collectively saving energy is rewarding and fun, especially with the added challenge of another team. The pizza party at the end was just a perk.