Feedback on household electricity consumption: a tool for saving energy?

Abstract

Improved feedback on electricity consumption may provide a tool for customers to better control their consumption and ultimately save energy. This paper asks which kind of feedback is most successful. For this purpose, a psychological model is presented that illustrates how and why feedback works. Relevant features of feedback are identified that may determine its effectiveness: frequency, duration, content, breakdown, medium and way of presentation, comparisons, and combination with other instruments. The paper continues with an analysis of international experience in order to find empirical evidence for which kinds of feedback work best. In spite of considerable data restraints and research gaps, there is some indication that the most successful feedback combines the following features: it is given frequently and over a long time, provides an appliance-specific breakdown, is presented in a clear and appealing way, and uses computerized and interactive tools.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All energy scenarios, e.g., for Germany, agree that a sustainable energy system is impossible without significant cuts in overall consumption (Enquête-Kommission 2002; DLR et al. 2004; DIW et al. 2005).

  2. 2.

    As her aim is to explain environmentally conscious behaviour, defined as solving environmental problems, Matthies describes the problem more specifically as an environmental problem. However, electricity consumption, although it has important environmental impacts, cannot solely or even predominantly be conceptualized as behaviour that is directed at solving an environmental problem. Therefore, I think it is more appropriate in our context to choose a more general approach by analyzing how conscious decisions generally come about, and only in a second step, how environmental considerations may enter the process.

  3. 3.

    Here again, Matthies specifies the norms involved as “environmental norms”. For reasons explained above (footnote 4), I prefer a more general approach.

  4. 4.

    Due to language constraints, only English and German papers could be considered. As the paper by Darby (2006) became available within short notice, some of the references cited there could not be considered.

  5. 5.

    I do not include the review studies in this section. However, the insights gained from the review studies will enter the reasoning process when developing conclusions.

  6. 6.

    By a “field experiment”, I mean a project conducted with the core purpose of generating information and insight on the effects of feedback. It has a more scientific character. A “model project” means a project that is being conducted with the core purpose of testing a certain type of feedback in practice.

  7. 7.

    Three of them have only one experimental group and a control group, and one has several experimental groups but lacks a control group.

  8. 8.

    The projects by Ueno et al. (2005, 2006) actually lasted longer, but have been evaluated only at one early point of time, namely after they had been running for 4 weeks (or 6 weeks, respectively).

  9. 9.

    Information on statistical significance of the findings is often lacking, but the sheer number of studies which report savings is a good indicator for the general effectiveness of feedback.

  10. 10.

    A fourth project that could not produce measurable savings is Garay and Lindholm (1995). The authors attribute this to methodological problems with the composition of the groups, though.

  11. 11.

    Mosler and Gutscher (2004) themselves report that their findings are not statistically significant because the groups were too small.

  12. 12.

    “All designs” in this section always refers to those designs that could be included in the comparison.

  13. 13.

    The exception is Sexton et al. (1987) who, for reasons discussed above, differ a bit from the rest of the studies.

  14. 14.

    It remains unclear, though, why the project by Ueno et al. (2006), which is a very similar project to Ueno et al. (2005), resulted in much lesser savings. Uncertainties due to the very small sample surely play a part.

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Acknowledgements

The research has been conducted within the project “TIPS—Transformation and Innovation in Power Systems.” I thank the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) for funding TIPS within their program “Socio-Ecological Research”. Furthermore, I thank Ms. Anita Eide, two anonymous reviewers of the ECEEE 2007 Summer Study, and two anonymous reviewers of Energy Efficiency for their detailed and important comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Corinna Fischer.

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Fischer, C. Feedback on household electricity consumption: a tool for saving energy?. Energy Efficiency 1, 79–104 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12053-008-9009-7

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Keywords

  • Consumers
  • Electricity consumption
  • Energy conservation
  • Feedback
  • Electricity bill
  • Advanced metering
  • Literature review