Recently, there has been an increasing number of initiatives aimed at helping people reduce their energy consumption at homes. People can now easily install and use smart meters in their houses, i.e. devices that monitors their electricity consumption and gives them some form of feedback on their behavior. However, can we be sure that such devices are actually effective, or do they only consist of another source of information in our always-connected and busy everyday life?
In a recent study published by Energy Policy (Buchanan et al., 2015), a group of researchers investigated such questions by analyzing literature research made in the past few decades.
Results are not so encouraging as we hoped to expect. Indeed, they found that the average effect of feedback on energy consumption is very small, i.e. consisting of only 2% in the short-term (about 3 months), which may or may not persist in a longer period. They also add that to achieve these savings users must actively engage with the system. However, the strategies employed might not be suitable to all kind of persons, e.g. some people might be motivated by monetary savings, while others by knowing how much (or less) they impacted the environment. In addition, the feedback provided might not be informative enough for telling people what they should or can do in terms of environmental behaviors. Finally, such system might even pose the risk of unexpected consequences, such as an increasing consumption that might occur when people spend their energy savings to buy additional electrical appliances or other consumer goods.
To overcome such problems, the authors highlight the need to better investigate the so-called “human-factor” when designing the smart meters of the future. This implies designing feedback strategies that take into account the problems identified, the users needs and how to keep them actively engaged in the long-term.
Such findings are also relevant to the broader context of "smart-home" systems, i.e. toolkits that not only display energy consumption but allow also people to control their home appliances to support their everyday practices.
Thus, more research is needed to make smart meters or smart-home systems really "smart".
Buchanan, K., Russo, R., & Anderson, B. (2015). The question of energy reduction: The problem(s) with feedback. Energy Policy, 77, 89–96.http://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2014.12.008
Text: Andrea Vianello