Energy use and behaviour change
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Energy use and behaviour change

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A brief overview of just some of the psychological approaches to understanding energy use behaviour.

A brief overview of just some of the psychological approaches to understanding energy use behaviour.

This is a lightning talk I gave at Homecamp 4 at the C4CC in London in November 2011.

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  • This is a lightning talk I gave at Homecamp 4 (http://homecamp.org.uk/) unconference in London in November 2011. The aim was to give a flavour of the kind of things that Psychology can bring to understanding people's energy use behaviour.

    The papers I've cited are good representative papers for each area I cover but are not necessarily the most up-to-date available. If you need more info for a specific project, Google Scholar and your local Environmental Psychologist are your friends. :-)
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  • Why is Psychology relevant to changing how people use energy? Take a street of identical houses with similar numbers of occupants. How much energy is used in those households will vary a lot because of the variation in energy behaviours between the occupants. We need to look at the psychological processes that determine those behaviours to understand them. This presentation gives a lightning overview of just some of the psychological influences on energy behaviours.
  • The problem with energy (eg electricity) is that it's invisible...
  • ...everywhere, so we take it for granted...
  • ...and hardly anyone understands it. Try asking someone what a kilowatt hour is, or whether 100w is a little or a lot of electricity for their house to be using at night after they have gone to bed.
  • We can address this lack of understanding about energy by educating people to increase their knowledge. Education, especially when the education is targeted to a specific household's needs, can be very successful at increasing knowledge and understanding. However, increased knowledge doesn't lead to behaviour change. Just because somebody knows they use a lot of electricity every day in their home and that's why they spend a lot on their electricity bills doesn't mean that they will actually change their behaviour to reduce the amount of electricity they use.
  • This could be because they just aren't motivated to change their behaviour. People can be motivated to do something purely for the sake of doing it; because it gives them pleasure. Unfortunately, energy-saving behaviours often aren't that pleasurable—at least, I've never found turning off a light a source of pleasure in its own right! Some people adopt the values of saving energy and so motivate themselves to engage in energy-saving behaviours. Many people, of course, don't. So external motivators are provided, such as financial incentives or legislation. The problem with external motivators such as financial incentives is that the person is aware that they aren't in control of the behaviour and as soon as the incentive ends, so does the behaviour.
  • Another way to improve someone's knowledge of their energy use is to provide feedback. Feedback can be real-time, direct feedback, like you get from electricity monitors. It can also be delayed and indirect, like energy bills at the end of the month or quarter. Direct feedback monitors can reduce people's energy use by between 5% and 15%. They work better still when combined with indirect feedback that illustrates the effects of significant changes in the home such as building an extension or installing insulation.
  • As well as providing feedback about an individual's own energy use, we can provide feedback about their energy use relative to relevant other people's usage. A study of nearly 300 houses in California took electricity readings for householders over 2 weeks then left a message on the door of each house with their usage over the 2 weeks. A week later, they returned with another message that showed usage over 2 weeks, the average usage of the neighbourhood, and whether the household was above or below the average. Households that used above-average amounts of electricity started to reduce their usage down towards the mean. However, households with below-average usage started to increase their usage towards the mean. For half the houses, researchers also put a little smiley face on the message: sad for houses with above-average usage (to show it wasn't a desirable level); happy for below-average usage (to show it was a desirable level). Households with sad faces still reduced their usage. Households with happy faces, though, didn't increase usage from their low starting points.
  • So when we try to change people's behaviour, we need to be aware of the potential undesirable consequences. Undesirable consequences can occur when we make technology more efficient. For example, someone buys a new Prius but now, because they have a really efficient car, they start to drive more because, well, it's more efficient. So their savings are less than they should have been (or potentially be negative!). Although economists pretty much agree that this happens (at least in some circumstances), it's not clear why. Psychologists are starting to investigate the underlying processes that determine (or not) such behaviour.
  • So, there's a lot of research out there. Psychologists have been looking at energy-related behaviours since the 1970s, when we had the last energy crisis. There are a lot of gaps in the research but there's a lot of work going on at the moment to fill those. The broadest conclusion is that there's no silver bullet. It's not a case of technology vs changing behaviour. We need to consider both to ensure that one doesn't cancel out the other. And people are complex so we need to take a combination of approaches to understand their behaviours. I've touched on just a handful of psychological approaches here; many things influence people's energy-related behaviour, such as their habits, their self-identity, their values and world-views...and so on...
  •  Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25(3), 273-291. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2005.08.002 Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2007). The effect of tailored information, goal setting, and tailored feedback on household energy use, energy-related behaviors, and behavioral antecedents. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27(4), 265-276. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.08.002  Darby, S. (2006). The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption: A review for DEFRA of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays. http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/electric-metering.php  Fischer, C. (2008). Feedback on household electricity consumption: a tool for saving energy? Energy Efficiency, 1(1), 79-104. Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/s12053-008-9009-7  Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. The American psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11392867 Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18(5), 429-34. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01917.x
  • (Note that some of these photos are not licenced for commercial use.) Light bulb http://www.flickr.com/photos/ calliope /2665936868/ Home cinema http://www.flickr.com/photos/ anachronism_uk /87771540/ Pylons http://www.flickr.com/photos/ chrisamichaels /3213942130/ Meter http://www.flickr.com/photos/ mcluhandarkfold /4581726023/ Information stand http://www.flickr.com/photos/ 350org /5068057385/ Current Cost http://www.flickr.com/photos/ tristanf /2578223342/ Californian suburb http://www.flickr.com/photos/ auntylaurie /2567962549/ Pound coins http://www.flickr.com/photos/ ringai /3172831938/ Prius http://www.flickr.com/photos/ smoocherie /144154437/ Silver bullet http://www.flickr.com/photos/ eschipul /4160817135/

Energy use and behaviour change Energy use and behaviour change Presentation Transcript

  • Laura Cowen @lauracowen PhD Student Environmental Psychology University of Surrey
  • Invisible
  • Ubiquitous
  • Incomprehensible
  • Knowledge
  • Motivation
  • Feedback
  • Social norms
  • Boomerang effects
  • Multiple approaches are necessary
  • References
    •  Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25(3), 273-291. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2005.08.002
    • Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., & Rothengatter, T. (2007). The effect of tailored information, goal setting, and tailored feedback on household energy use, energy-related behaviors, and behavioral antecedents. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27(4), 265-276. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.08.002
    •  Darby, S. (2006). The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption: A review for DEFRA of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays. http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/research/energy/electric-metering.php
    •  Fischer, C. (2008). Feedback on household electricity consumption: a tool for saving energy? Energy Efficiency, 1(1), 79-104. Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/s12053-008-9009-7
    •  Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. The American psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11392867
    • Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18(5), 429-34. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01917.x
  • Photo credits (CC)
    • Light bulb http://www.flickr.com/photos/ calliope /2665936868/
    • Home cinema http://www.flickr.com/photos/ anachronism_uk /87771540/
    • Pylons http://www.flickr.com/photos/ chrisamichaels /3213942130/
    • Meter http://www.flickr.com/photos/ mcluhandarkfold /4581726023/
    • Information stand http://www.flickr.com/photos/ 350org /5068057385/
    • Current Cost http://www.flickr.com/photos/ tristanf /2578223342/
    • Californian suburb http://www.flickr.com/photos/ auntylaurie /2567962549/
    • Pound coins http://www.flickr.com/photos/ ringai /3172831938/
    • Prius http://www.flickr.com/photos/ smoocherie /144154437/
    • Silver bullet http://www.flickr.com/photos/ eschipul /4160817135/
  • Laura Cowen @lauracowen PhD Student Environmental Psychology University of Surrey [email_address]