January 21, 2018
Although we can upgrade to more efficient HVAC systems and replace our lighting with LEDs, we may not necessarily be achieving the energy efficiency that we expect in our communities. Adopting more efficient equipment for our homes, businesses, and municipal buildings is a great first step but we are not addressing critical components to persistent energy savings – the rebound effect and human behavior.
What is the rebound effect? According to a recent report by The Energy Collective, very simply, when we install a more efficient product we tend to use it more – to achieve greater comfort in the case of HVAC systems or to enhance lighting in the case of LEDs. Behavior change programs and strategies can help lessen this issue and optimize the savings we expect from more efficient technology.
Behavior change programs come in several forms. ACEEE conducted an analysis of behavior change programs and organized them into three categories: information based programs, social interaction programs, and educational and training programs.
Information Based Programs
Information based programs provide energy usage information to customers so that they can make the best informed decision about reducing their energy usage. This can take the form of a home energy report on a utility bill that compares usage to other similar customers. Technologies such as a Nest thermostat that optimizes your home’s heating and cooling or the Chai Energy mobile app that provides instantaneous data on your home’s energy consumption also provide consumers with more complete information about their own usage. Information based technologies such as Nest have been measured to save 2-16% on energy bills for heating and cooling.
Social Interaction Programs
Social interaction programs use interpersonal interaction to influence behavior. Energy saving competitions such as the Cool California Challenge or the Kilowatt Smackdown encourage participants to compete with their peers to achieve greater energy savings in their communities. The Cool California Challenge in particular resulted in 14% energy savings among participants.
Educational and Training Programs
A common approach for training programs is Strategic Energy Management. These types of programs are often geared toward industrial or commercial customers, focusing on training staff on how to make their businesses more efficient. Fortunately, California local governments and businesses within their communities can take advantage of programs such as the Building Operator Certification (BOC) program that offers training for building operators. A credentialed operator can lead to as much as $20,000 worth of energy savings annually according to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council who operates the BOC program.
Behavior change may seem like a complex challenge but there are relatively simple things residents, businesses, and local governments can do right now to increase energy savings. A sometimes overlooked approach is to simply identify energy or sustainability champions in your own community. Supporting these champions is a quick and effective way to change behavior – leading by example so that communities can be more energy efficient, increasing resilience to the effects of climate change and paving the way to a more sustainable future.