Ever heard of Owatanna in Minnesota? I didn’t think so. It’s here that the local energy supplier and academics are trying out a unique experiment to dramatically reduce household energy consumption, using the lowly monthly bill, which may also lead to some from of genetic engineering!

Here’s how it works.   Utilising software developed by Positive Energy, involving clever analytics and a smattering of business intelligence, households in Owatanna are grouped with ninety-nine other neighbours of similar house size, inhabitants, etc. in order to compare like with like.  Energy bills sent out list the household’s position out of one hundred in terms of energy consumption, with #1 being the best. Graphs on the bill show performance over previous periods showing upward and downward trends.  Now, Americans being of a competitive  nature, appear to have taken up the challenge and are actively competing with other neighbours to get to the number one spot, or as close to it as possible.

Presumably, winning households may get to display their #1 status with a sign on the front lawn or wear T-shirts advertising the fact, but whatever the prize it pales in insignificance when the energy savings are tallied up.  Ottanawans have become obsessed with the competition turning off lights, hanging washing outside to dry, letting hair dry naturally, even reducing the number of hours spent watching TV and playing on computers.  It’s inhabitants are even becoming more socially interactive.

According to Prof Vladas Griskevicius this type of competitive spirit will have a long-lasting effect on the gene pool, and this is where the selective breeding part comes in.  He believes that the increase in status as the top energy conserver will be attractive to a like-minded mate and the subsequent off-spring will carry the same genetic tendencies as the energy efficient parents.  Darwin is probably turning in his grave at the thought! My own theory is that less TV, lower computer time and the use of candles for lighting may result in an increase of other nocturnal activities and a subsequent increase in little ‘energy-savers’.

Who’d have thought the lowly bill could potentially become the saviour of the planet.  Now all we have to do is convince Owatanna to opt for eBills instead of paper and the cycle will be complete.  Just in case you think I’ve gone stark-billing mad, check out the story for yourself on the BBC.