Accel’s Wagner On Where The Smart Grid Meets The Social Graph

The energy industry is wrestling with the challenge of motivating indifferent homeowners to become interested in home energy management–so far unsuccessfully.

The killer app has not been found. Sure, companies such as VC-backed OPower have demonstrated some success engaging consumers and reducing power use. But what will turn niche market into mass market?

Accel Partners’ Peter Wagner offers an answer: social networks. Social media holds the promise of moving energy efficiency to the next level, he writes Thursday in an essay on the cleantech Website Greentech Media. It could stir the interest of lethargic homeowners.

“Except for a few die hard energy geeks, the general population is not all that interested in slicing and dicing their kilowatt hours consumed,” Wagner says. “A new tack must be taken to gain consumer mindshare, and we think social media will be a large part of the equation.”

I must admit, it is an interesting notion. Here is where venture investor Wagner goes next:

“Our extensive work in the social media sphere, including our experience with portfolio companies Facebook (the dominant social platform), Groupon (which has leveraged the Facebook platform to achieve super-normal growth), Playfish (which pioneered the use of the Facebook platform for rapid distribution of social games) and others, leads us to believe that social media can propel energy efficiency to the next level.”

Growing on the back of a site such as Facebook does make sense. Unfortunately, what Wagner doesn’t address is exactly how this will occur. In other words, if people don’t pay attention now to home energy use, what on Facebook will change this? OPower, an Accel funded company that last month closed a $50 million Series C financing with Accel, Kleiner Perkins and New Enterprise Associates, uses techniques that allow people to compare their consumption to their neighbors. If this is what Wagner has in mind, I would like to hear him explain it.

In any event, what the piece suggests is that once consumers are interested in energy management, they can be equipped with smart grid connected devices, such as network connected thermostats and smart plugs, to respond to energy efficiency offerings and online marketing programs.

It is an interesting glimpse of the new world. But it still leaves open the question of how we get there.