New Research on the Effects of Sharing Home Energy Reports

Home Energy Report (HER) programs could be more effective with targeted participation, and it’s difficult to predict how people will respond to feedback. This is what I took away from research presented by Opinion Dynamics on a recent Better Buildings Residential Network Peer Exchange call. The research dissected the ~2% net energy reduction found when Home Energy Reports (HERs) are shared with utility customers. HERs are those smiley faces, graphs and neighbor comparisons we commonly see our utility bills. The ~2% reduction is a reference to research from MIT and others that have found an aggregate reduction in energy consumption of about 2% just by sharing HERs with a population of utility customers.

HER_exampleHome energy report example (image credit: http://www.cityofpasadena.net)

Opinion Dynamics evaluated a long-term HER program with over 250,000 customers, who were grouped into five different categories depending on how much energy they saved after receiving HERs. The analysis revealed that while the net effect of the HER program was positive (i.e. energy was saved), 40% of the customers evaluated actually used more electricity—consistently—after receiving the HERs. If not for the increased consumption from this subset of customers, overall energy savings from the program would have been significantly higher. These findings may seem counter-intuitive, but they support behavioral research we’ve done here at Resynergy Systems.

OD_savings_distribution
Distribution of customers by HER energy savings (image credit: Opinion Dynamics)

We conducted a randomized control trial that evaluated the effect of sharing above-average OPEN scores with homeowners during home energy audits. We wanted to know if homeowners would be more likely to invest in energy efficiency when receiving a score. We found that in the aggregate, homeowners who received a score were more likely to say they would invest in energy efficiency. However, we also found a small subset of homeowners who were less likely to say they would invest—even though everyone received the same above-average score of 64. Like HER programs, the net result of our experiment was positive, but sharing the score did not affect everyone the same way. In our research, the people less likely to say they would invest were those that indicated they did not pay close attention to their utility bills.

I don’t know if Opinion Dynamics identified common characteristics for the negative savers in their research—they recommended stopping the HER intervention once a negative impact is found for a particular customer. Ideally, we would identify people that are likely to respond negatively before intervening in the first place. Why wait until they exhibit the behavior we are trying to avoid?

Humans are funny creatures and our behavior is (sometimes) difficult to predict, but better understanding the science behind decision making is key to reducing energy consumption in the future. The research conducted by Opinion Dynamics is important and illuminating.

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