Getting Results Through Behavioral Science
Some companies have put behavioral science into practice to get people to change their habits when it comes to energy use.
Grist reporter David Roberts says one company that's making progress is O-Power, which sends electric customers an analysis with their bills that tells them how their electric use compares with that of their neighbors. Roberts say this is exploiting a principle called social proof. If you can convince people on their energy bill that they are an outlier, that they use more than their neighbor, they will try to compete with the leaders. The result is reduction in energy use of 2 to 4 percent across millions of people. Roberts says there could be even more if unconscious cues are used.
Roberts believes there will be more behavioral response if there is more feedback. He says most people's interaction with price feedback is once a month, when the electric bill comes, and that number tends to be not big enough that they will care. But if customers found that electricity costs more during peak hours than non-peak hours, it could be another cue, like the gauge on the Toyota Prius that tells the driver the car's mileage every minute.
Roberts says large organizations can have more of an effect on individuals. In the military, for example, officers have told him that once an enlisted man learns that being inefficient endangers the whole operation, he takes that lesson home.
Roberts also warns that people have to be taken into account in implementing new technology. A case in point is the rollout of smart meters in California. Utilities thought it was a good thing, and they forced it on people without any discussion. The result was an extraordinary backlash against it.
If the government wants to encourage cleaner energy and more innovation, Roberts says the the obvious element is the human element. So far, the government's effort has not included figuring out human behavior, and why and how people interact with energy. Part of it, he says, is that energy has been so cheap for so long that people have not had to care about it. Now we have an era where energy is a much bigger part of our day-to-day lives. So it's important that we understand how people behave around energy and what will cause them to behave differently.
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