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Energy Conservation through Real-Time Feedback

In a large-scale field experiment with residents of student dormitories, we investigate the effects of individual as well as social comparison real-time feedback on energy and water conservation. Moreover, we develop a research platform to examine how feedback on different types of energy-related behavior is effectively combined.

The growing demand for energy and water creates global environmental problems, fueling a search for effective policies of resource conservation. Among the policy instruments, behavioral interventions – such as giving feedback about one’s own or other people’s past behavior – have received attention as cost-effective tools (Allcott & Mullainathan, 2010; Gardner & Stern, 2008; Allcott & Rogers 2014). Such interventions, however, lead only to modest reductions in resource consumption by 1% to 3% (Ayres et al., 2009). Moreover, evidence also suggests that the effect relies predominantly on negative pressure as its key psychological mechanism (Nolan et al., 2008, Costa & Kahn 2013).

In this project, we propose a new and different behavioral approach that may prove more effective and desirable in several dimensions. We base our behavioral intervention on an information system that provides real-time feedback (RTF) about a specific resource at the time of use, rather than providing information about aggregate past behavior. RTF may help individuals overcome salience bias (Bordalo et al., 2013) by making resource consumption more salient relative to the immediate benefits of consumption. Very recently, the beneficial effects of RTF have been demonstrated, for example, by Asensio & Delmas (2015) who provide appliance-level feedback in real time on electricity consumption and show that conservation effects are significantly larger than typically obtained in studies providing past behavior feedback. Tiefenbeck et al. (2015) provide RTF on resource consumption of showering and obtain large behavioral effects. RTF reduces resource consumption on showering by 22%, leading to a much larger absolute reduction in energy use than studies providing aggregate feedback (in particular, Degen et al., 2013, on the same subject pool).

Prof. Dr. Bettina Rockenbach, Staatswissenschaftliches Seminar

Prof. Dr. Matthias Sutter, Chair in Economics: Behavior and Design