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Get Your Green on in Energyville

Chevron launched an online, interactive game designed to fuel discussion about the origin of our energy.

Energyville lets players select different energy sources to power their cities. They can choose from biomass, coal, solar, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, wind or hydroelectric energy to run factories, light office buildings, and keep transportation and shipping moving along.

The game calculates the economic, security and environmental costs of each choice, and then calculates an energy management score. Next, the game reveals how the choices will impact the city in 2015 and 2030, a time at which Chevron calculates global energy demand will have risen by 50 percent.

Players can see how they scored against others and are then invited to join discussion forums.

The Economist Group, publisher of The Economist and CFO magazines, developed Energyville, which is its latest entry in Chevron's "Will You Join Us" public information campaign launched in 2005. The campaign includes the Web site, television and print commercials.

Choose from a number of energy sources to fuel a town.
Source: Chevron

"It's part of a coherent communications platform we're using to try to engage people broadly and around the world about energy issues," said Chevron spokesman Alex Yelland. "We wanted it to be engaging enough for a broad audience, and yet deep enough into the issues to provide some real substance. You could spend five or 10 minutes playing it, selecting the kinds of energy sources you'd like, or spend much more time going through each individual energy source, finding out what kinds of impacts there are."

Energy consultant Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, said Chevron realizes it can't market its way to a greener image -- but it needs to do more.

"To be taken seriously, Chevron and their oil company brethren will need to do much better, helping pave the way to a post-petroleum, carbon-constrained future," he said. "I do believe that Chevron wants to be the best energy company it can be, but that it's staking that claim largely on oil and gas for the foreseeable future."

Big Oil's green future?

Chevron gained lots of attention for its Will You Join Us efforts. It was credited with being the first Big Oil company to raise the specter of Peak Oil, the theory that at some time, the world's production of petroleum will reach its peak and, after that, begin to decline.

In October 2006, Chevron announced a strategic research alliance with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop technologies to convert forestry and agricultural waste into biofuels, such as ethanol and renewable diesel. It has similar partnerships with the University of California at Davis and the Georgia Institute of Technology focusing on these so-called cellulosic biofuels.

The company says it's spent more than $1.5 billion on renewable energy projects and on delivering energy efficiency solutions. Focus areas include geothermal power, biofuels, hydrogen and advanced batteries, as well as application of wind and solar technologies. It claims to be the largest renewable energy producer among global oil and gas companies, producing 1,152 megawatts of renewable energy primarily from geothermal operations.

Chevron Technology Ventures provides capital for business developing new energy sources and technologies, while Chevron Energy Solutions consults with public institutions and the U.S. government on reducing carbon emissions.

Making plain a complex problem

One goal of the Energyville game, Yelland says, is to show consumers how complex the issue really is. "It tries to demonstrate that you need to achieve a certain balance between these issues if consumers want affordable transportation fuels and industry needs reliable power, how do you factor that in with supply and demand and impact?

Green-minded players will find that in Energyville, there's no way to completely eliminate petroleum from the energy mix.

Yelland said that the Economist Group was given a free hand to develop the game, with no bias for or against the various energy sources. The Economist Group based the game on independent data from around 100 different global organizations, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Energy Agency, the Electric Power Research Institute and the Energy Information Administration.

"The game tries to reflect realities, such as there's only so much power you can get from one source," he said.

Nathan Freier, an assistant professor of human/computer interaction at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said that how much to guide players' decisions is a strategic decision for a game designer. "If you immerse people in an environment and put problems in front of them, they will construct solutions -- and you can guide the construction of those solutions. Through that guidance in the game's context, you can lead people down logical paths in order to come to an understanding about how to solve the problem."

Next page: Chevron joins others.