Human Behavior: The Hot Spot in Energy Efficiency

By William Pentland

All electrons are not created equal.
8/31/2012 @ 11:33PM 

The average “uninformed” consumer will reduce the amount of energy they use at home by less than 7% when the price of electricity rises. By contrast, the average “informed” consumer will reduce his or her energy usage at home by more than twice that amount, according to a new study by economists at the University of California, Davis.

In “Knowledge is (Less) Power: Experimental Evidence from Residential Energy Use,” Katrina Jessoe and David Rapson report the results of empirical research they conducted on how residential electricity customers responded when they were given access to real-time information on electricity usage and prices.

The conclusion: most people make rational economic choices if they have the wherewithal to do so. For better or worse, the overwhelming majority of consumers do not have this wherewithal.

The study is the most recent addition to the rapidly accumulating body of evidence supporting the idea that “energy use is not determined just by the equipment we purchase, but how we use it,” as the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy puts it.

The complex linkages between energy efficiency, human behavior and information feedbacks is a hot spot in emerging energy efficiency programs, which are commonly called “Customer Information and Behavior” (CIB) programs.

“Behavioral strategies are designed to accelerate information feedback loops,” said Greg Thomas, the CEO of Ithaca, NY-based Performance Systems Development. “People will adjust their behavior rationally in response to information. These programs are trying to reduce the latency between action, learning and adjustment.”

Unlike traditional energy efficiency programs, information-based behavioral strategies rely more on the social, psychological and political dynamics that drive people’s decision-making process to reduce energy usage than technology or standards. CIB programs allow consumers to change energy consumption patterns by providing consumers with more detailed and timely information regarding energy usage patterns.

Several utilities are conducting pilot programs that use Home Area Networks (HAN), the household-facing layer of technology, to provide customers with real-time information on electricity usage and prices.

We’ll have to wait for the feedback before we can say more.

Original article can be read here: