How neighbors’ psychology helps to save electricity
8 Jan 2016

A growing number of countries are encouraging their citizens to start saving electricity, but its consumption continues to grow. A group of U.S researchers managed to make people care about energy efficiency, learn to be more sparing about electricity usage, half of U.S energy companies are now using this method.

Despite electricity conservation efforts and switching to renewable power sources in many countries, global power consumption is growing each year. According to World Energy Statistics, in 2014 mankind consumed 20,301 terawatt-hours and over 80% of this energy was produced by burning coal, oil and gas, as well as by nuclear power plants. Clean energy is based on emerging technologies though some countries are using them successful to reduce air emissions.

For example, the share of renewable energy in total power consumption in Germany is over 30% and 68mn people across EU will be supplied with green energy by 2020.

However aside from the environmental issues and access to electricity for Earth’s population, mankind has to cut total power consumption and improve its efficiency. Originally this issue was raised in the second half of last century after the formation of the green movement. But energy saving was associated with a lower standard of living and green ideas gained little support.

Today people in many countries receive information on electricity saving on a regular basis. You can find special information resources on the internet, through the mass media or through government agencies. In mid-December energy-saving classes were held in Russian schools at the initiative of energy ministry and ministry of education and science. At these classes, supported by energy companies and federal agencies, children could learn about the importance of a careful attitude to the energy resources of our country. Such classes can become part of the curriculum.

The federal law “On energy saving and improvement of energy efficiency” came into force in Russia in 2009. Based on this law state authorities develop their energy-saving programs.

It’s about motivation

But these measures don’t always change power consumers’ behavior. This fact was supported by a large-scale behavioral experiment held in San Marcos by students of Arizona State University and California State University in 2004.

The researchers surveyed residents of California about what can motivate them to start saving electricity. Most people pointed out the opportunity to cut electricity costs, though many of them also expressed eagerness to care about the environment. About 98% of the surveyed said that they try to save power while 58% stated that they do it “almost constantly”.

Nevertheless power consumption in California has been steady in recent years. The researcher decided to find out how energy-saving messages can impact electricity consumption. Over 1,200 households took part in the experiment. The students divided them into four groups. On the first group of houses they hung door posters with the recommendation to turn off their air conditioning in summer as it helps to save 54 dollars a month. The second group was suggested to think about environment, the third one – about the hazard of public grid overload. None of these reasons led to lower power consumption.

The fourth group of householders got door posters with the information that 77% of their neighbors turn off their air conditioners to save energy. The posters also had the message to join an energy saving campaign. As a result, power consumption dropped by 1.2 kilowatt-hours a day. Thus the experiment showed the direct link between public attitude and behavior of energy consumers. Moral persuasion and financial incentives do not work.

Public control

Businessmen Danny Yates and Alex Laskey, who founded the company Opower in 2007, got interested in the research. They developed software to analyze energy consumption and agreed to provide leading US power producers with the statistics. Using this data companies could compare power use in similar-sized houses and deliver energy reports to householders together with their electricity bills. “They compare themselves with their neighbors and then we offer them our energy-saving recommendations”, Laskey explained.

Opower has over 50 million clients among householders and the business community. The company collaborates with 28 of the 50 largest power suppliers in the USA and raised 65 million dollars of venture capital. Opower created a mobile application to control electricity use and plans to present a package of internet solutions in the near future.

Company clients saved over one billion dollars and eight billion kilowatts, and this is not the limit… “More than 20% of total energy consumption or 40 billion dollars are wasted annually. We keep light and air conditioning on even if we go out”, Laskey said in one of his public speeches. The company is confident that key to electricity saving is a change in people’s behavior. But it will be impossible while power suppliers benefit from energy consumption. According to Laskey, government should change this model and incentivize electricity companies to save energy.

The same motivation tools can be used to change public consciousness. Laskey made an example of Toyota Prius car with its on-board computer, which shows quantity of fuel saved and reduction in air emissions.


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