Research

Changing consumer behaviour towards energy

There are emerging trends in the energy industry at the moment around helping consumers become more engaged with the energy they are using, and understanding their consumption behaviours. This is spurred on by consumers’ need to reduce the amount of domestic energy they are using, or to increase the amount of energy they can produce themselves, mirrored by utility companies working on pilot schemes to promote the idea of ‘self-consumption’ of energy produced by the individual, while aiming to help their customers reduce their energy bills and understand how they can do this.

Dan Lockton is speaking at this year’s Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) on reducing domestic energy use through encouraging behavioural change, something we at Truth have become familiar with while working alongside a utility company on their SMART Energy Home Scheme, currently taking place in 70 different households. Dan’s main criticism of current Smart Meter rollouts is that they only accredit energy use by monetary value, rather than helping people to understand why they are doing what they are doing, and identifying ways to change individuals’ behaviour to reduce energy consumption at a broader level.

We have found that consumers struggle to translate KWh into actual energy use but, more importantly, they find it difficult to understand their overall energy consumption without being able to monitor it by time: i.e. over a day, month or between seasons. An interesting idea that has emerged from research and pilot programmes is that consumers will engage more with their energy consumption if they are able to compare their usage to their neighbours’ or that of similar-sized households. To this point, Alex Laskey, the CEO of OPOWER, who develop tools to increase consumer engagement with energy usage, recently gave an interesting talk on the potential for consumer gamification within the sector.

This is an important space to watch, as there will be significant movement as in-home technology is developed to be more consumer-facing, with less input needed from utility companies as consumers feel more capable of monitoring and producing their own energy at home. There are collaborations underway between architects, construction companies, government bodies, utility companies, technology firms and charities to make this happen and, in particular, to make the technology available to vulnerable members of society first.