Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency

Historically, energy efficiency programs have relied on financial incentives to motivate people to purchase energy efficient products.  Behavior‐based energy efficiency strategies rely on other motivations that influence people’s energy consumption. These non-financial influences can be powerful motivators that encourage people to reduce their energy consumption. For example, some utilities send their customers home energy reports, which present that customer’s energy use relative to similar home. 

On average, when informed that they use more energy than a similar home, people will take steps to reduce their consumption and across a population households can save 1-3 percent.[1]  Over millions of households this adds up to a significant reduction in energy consumption.

Photo of a thermostat

Key Focus Areas

Behavioral efficiency programs and strategies are a cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption.  Behavioral insights from academic research in behavioral science, economics and psychology can also help improve the performance of traditional efficiency programs. For example, a recent study for ComEd estimates that even if energy efficient residential lighting technology is in place, there is still approximately 11% waste due to occupant behavior[2]. SEE Action has identified four key issues that need to be addressed to leverage behavioral insights to reduce energy waste:

  • Behavior Potential StudiesEnergy efficiency potential studies are often the first step in developing a portfolio of programs. SEE Action is developing tools and resources to help stakeholders conduct behavior based energy efficiency potential studies. 
  • Enabling Data Access while Protecting Customer Privacy. Customers can make better decisions to manage their energy use and costs when they have access to the right information and tools.  To develop these tools for customers, service providers need customer data.  Creating a framework that allows for data access while protecting customer privacy is a key foundation in the development of tools and resources that reduce energy waste.
  • Incorporating Behavioral Insights into Program Design.  The application of behavioral research can help program administrators design better programs.  The programs may be able to achieve more savings or increase participation rates with the application of the right behavioral science principles.
  • Measuring Savings from Behavior Based Efficiency Programs. Large scale behavior based energy efficiency programs are a relatively new strategy for acquiring savings.  Rigorous evaluation methods are needed so policymakers can be confident that savings estimates from these programs are valid and can understand issues such as the persistence of savings.

Key Initiatives

SEE Action is currently working on several initiatives to assist state and local entities, utilities and other program administrators capture energy savings through behavior-based strategies. These include:

  • Summarizing the range of policy approaches taken by states to provide access to customer energy use information that can be used to support and enhance the provision of energy efficiency services, while protecting customer privacy.
  • Providing recommended evaluation methods for estimating energy savings impacts resulting from residential behavior based efficiency programs.
  • Analyzing hourly and sub-hourly interval meter data to better understand more detail about the origin of the savings in behavior based efficiency programs, including the potential for peak-hour savings. 

[1] "Are Savings from Behavior Programs Ready for TRM Prime Time?" Scott Dimetrosky, Apex Analytics 2013, http://www.iepec.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Presentations/Dimetrosky.pdf

[2] “ComEd Residential Saturation/End-Use, Market Penetration & Behavioral Study” April 2013

Connect with Us about Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency

Contact our Experts
  • Michael Li, U.S. Department of Energy,
    Customer Information and Behavior Working Group, Staff Lead

Guidance Documents from the Network

Cover of Insights from Smart Meters: Identifying Specific Actions, Behaviors, and Characteristics Insights from Smart Meters: Identifying Specific Actions, Behaviors, and Characteristics That Drive Savings in Behavior-Based Programs

The report, the second in a series of reports on smart meters, presents concrete examples of findings from behavior analytics research using data that are immediately useful and relevant, including proof-of-concept analytics techniques that can be adapted and used by others, novel discoveries that answer important policy questions, and guidelines and protocols that summarize best practices for analytics and evaluation.

cover of smart meters: ramp-upInsights from Smart Meters: Ramp-Up, Dependability, and Short-Term Persistence of Savings from Home Energy Reports

This report, the third in a series of reports on smart meters, presents smart meter data to analyze the ramp-up, dependability, and short-term persistence of savings in Home Energy Reports (HERs)—one type of a behavior-based energy efficiency program.

Guide for States: Energy Efficiency as a Least-Cost Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution, and Meet Energy Needs in the Power Sector

A practical document that presents established policy and program “pathways” to advance demand-side energy efficiency, including:

  • Ratepayer-funded energy efficiency
  • Building energy codes
  • Local government-led efforts, such as building performance policies
  • State-led efforts, such as energy savings performance contracting
  • Commercial and industrial private sector approaches, such as strategic energy management and combined heat and power.

The guide presents case studies of successful regional, state, and local approaches to energy efficiency with sources for more information, resources to understand the range of expected savings from energy efficiency, and common protocols for documenting savings.

State and local air pollution control agencies will find SEE Action's Guide for States: Energy Efficiency as a Least-Cost Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution, and Meet Energy Needs in the Power Sector to be a very helpful resource. The guide provides a clear and credible overview of how states and localities are putting energy efficiency to work for them, and what they are getting out of their investment. These approaches give air agencies a broader set of tools to meet air quality standards, protect public health, and achieve multipollutant emission reductions at a low cost.

- Bill Becker, National Association of Clean Air Agencies
Delivering Energy Efficiency to Middle Income Single Family Households

Provides state and local policymakers with information on successful approaches to the design and implementation of residential efficiency programs for households ineligible for low-income programs.

insights from smart metersInsights from Smart Meters: The Potential for Peak-Hour Savings from Behavior-Based Programs

This publication presents examples of the value that insights from behavior analytics of these data can provide (as well as pointing out its limitations).