Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 327–347 | Cite as

The Myth of the Unscrupulous Energy User’s Dilemma: Evidence from Switzerland

Original Paper


Heating and warm water consumption are frequently billed based on actual consumption, and this approach can be assumed to provide a financial incentive to energy consumers to opt for energy-conserving behaviour (e.g., reducing the room temperature or using warm water economically). In many multi-flat buildings in Switzerland, tenants and homeowners still receive a heating and warm water bill that is based on a flat rate that depends on the size of the dwelling, rather than a bill that is based on the amount of energy actually consumed. In such a situation, there may be a social dilemma that leads to non-cooperative behaviour; economic theory predicts that households would choose a strategy of not sacrificing their level of comfort and, therefore, would not opt for energy-conserving behaviour. Psychological theory, on the other hand, suggests that a change in billing type might not, in and of itself, be a sufficient motivator to promote energy-conserving behaviour. This study aims to gain insight into Swiss consumers’ underlying motivations in conserving energy. It empirically tests whether and how a difference in billing type affects consumers’ current stated energy behaviour and their stated intention to conserve energy in the future. In neither of two separate studies was there any evidence of such a possible unscrupulous energy user’s dilemma. Thus, on its own, consumption-based billing might not lead to significant changes in consumer behaviour. However, it could constitute an essential part of a wider behaviour modification programme that includes more effective billing and direct feedback programmes.


Energy consumption Energy billing Water consumption Consumer policy Survey 



This research is part of the activities of SCCER CREST (Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research), which is financially supported by the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) under Grant No. KTI.2014.0114. The author thanks the anonymous review team for the valuable feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Economy and the EnvironmentUniversity of St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland

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