If Energy Efficiency Behavior-Change Programs were Pokemon Characters

Gita Subramony, ERS, for Zondits

Behavior change might be the next frontier for energy efficiency programs. Although it is not as prevalent as traditional efficiency offerings, these programs offer a new and growing source for savings. Behavior-change programs come in all different shapes and sizes, and there are varying amounts of data on their effectiveness. The ACEEE has just released a new report outlining the different types of existing behavior-change programs and how effective they have been. Like Pokemon characters, the programs have different strengths and weaknesses and some are more common than others.

Our new guide helps separate the Pikachus from the Digletts of energy efficiency behavior-change programs

ACEEE, October 18, 2016

In the energy efficiency world, programs that reduce energy use by targeting human behavior are relatively few, but proliferating quickly. In 2013, some US states claimed as much as 28% of their energy efficiency savings from behavior change programs. Like Pokémon Go characters in the wild, some behavior change programs are common, well-known, and seen everywhere. Others are rare and largely unknown. Still others are rarely seen but hold great potential. Utility program administrators may be familiar with a few of these programs, but an expert guide can help identify others and explain the best methods for capturing, collecting and using all of them. A new ACEEE report provides a thorough guide for understanding the world of energy efficiency behavior change programs, and why they work.

Home Energy Reports, the Diglett of behavior change programs

By far, the most common behavior change program implemented by utility program administrators are home energy reports (HERs) that feature social comparison information. These programs reduce energy consumption by giving residents reports on their energy use every one to four months (in addition to their monthly energy bills). The reports tell residents how much energy they used in comparison to similar homes in their region and include tips on how to reduce energy consumption. HERs have been implemented by utilities since 2008 and consistently reduce electricity use by about 1-2% (and gas by roughly 0.5-1%) by the end of their second year. The ACEEE report summarizes 30 such programs that were evaluated since 2013, and examines questions such as: How long do savings persist? Should HERs be delivered by paper or email? Should participants be automatically enrolled? How frequently should HERs be delivered? Like Diglett, these programs are common and well known. They play a significant role in shaping the landscape of behavior programs.

Games and competitions, the Pikachu of behavior change programs

For those interested in slightly more exotic behavior change programs, there are games and competitions. These proliferating programs are becoming the go-to-strategy for utilities and third parties interested in reducing energy consumption through behavior change. Like a rare Pikachu in the wild, they are quick, but their stamina (HP) is unknown. Though they can effectively change behavior, more needs to be learned about their long-term effectiveness. Utilities have implemented competitions between individuals, businesses, buildings, neighborhoods or even cities. For example, a series of competitions between commercial offices in Northwest USA resulted in 2-6% electricity reduction. Games such as Cool Choices make saving energy within a workplace fun and, in the process, reduce electricity consumption by as much as 6.6%. However, games and competitions can’t last forever. They motivate participants to save energy by rewarding the highest achievement when the event is complete. Although initial research suggests that energy savings likely persist after the end of the program, more data is needed.

Read More