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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) Conference is the premier event focused on understanding behavior and decision-making with respect to energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and sustainability. Annually, between 600 and 700 participants share new research, discuss innovative policy and program strategies, build networks, and find potential partners for collaboration at the conference.

The BECC Conference is convened by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) at U.C. Berkeley, and the Environmental and Energy Policy Analysis Center (SEEPAC) at Stanford University.

BECC brings together a range of academics, practitioners, and policy-makers from a variety of fields engaged in energy and climate efforts in order to provide the latest and most relevant behavioral research, best practices, and methodologies. The organizers value abstracts from all relevant disciplines concerned with human behavior, society, and culture, especially work from applied anthropology, social psychology, behavioral economics, organizational behavior, political science, communications, and the cognitive sciences.

BECC presenters now have the opportunity to submit peer-review quality papers to be published here via eScholarship in order to increase the visibility and impact of the BECC conference and reach new scholars across our wide range of disciplines. eScholarship is an open access digital publishing service for conferences, research units, and publishing programs.

Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference

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2011 Conference Proceedings (4)

Modelling the impact of user behaviour on heat energy consumption

Our behaviour in our homes can seriously affect the associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In the UK, space-heating accounts for nearly 60% of domestic energy consumption and 27% of total CO2 emissions come from our homes. Regrettably, low-energy building design does not guarantee low-energy performance. Controls systems, in particular heating controls, are often too complex for users to programme. This study uses real-world data from buildings, observational data from users and energy modelling to establish why people have difficulty using their control systems, and the potential resultant energy impacts.

Users were asked to programme an example heating profile for a week using three different control interfaces. Prior to attempting this task there was a preconception amongst users that they would be unable to complete it. Controls were found to exclude users due to the cognitive demands placed on them. A key observation was that five of the twenty-four users made a mistake in the programming process, which meant that the heating temperature was not reduced at the end of the heating period. This could potentially result in accidental heating throughout the day and night, unbeknown to the users.

Modelling this observation showed an increase in heating energy consumption of 14.5% compared to energy consumption associated with successfully programming the example heating profile. The modelling results showed that successful programming of the profile consumed less energy (in two of the three scenarios) than the default settings of the heating controls. Increasing the sense of perceived control users have over their environment may enable them to use less heat energy. By designing controls so that pro-environmental behaviour is, easily accomplished substantial energy savings could be made. 

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What Are People's Responses to Thermal Discomfort? Sensing Clothing and Activity Levels Using SenseCam

Recent international agreements on reducing energy consumption have led to a series of interventions in residential buildings, from modifying the building fabric to upgrading operating systems. To date, these attempts have met with limited success. One reason for this has been identified as the ‘rebound effect’, where the occupants’ respond to their home thermal environment change in unexpected ways after interventions. Often people decide to turn up the heating, to leave it on for longer, or to increase the average spatial temperature by heating more rooms. Although much of the research on heating patterns in dwellings has focused on identifying methods to predict and to assess thermal sensation, less is understood about the way occupants form their responses. Research presented in this paper focuses on mapping householders thermal discomfort responses. Empirical methods, drawn from the social and cognitive sciences, were used in a several studies, which monitored a small sample of UK households during winter of 2010. One of the tools used, the SenseCam, facilitates an automatic electronic diary collection by logging occupants’ responses in a systematic approach.SenseCam results enabled the mapping of participants’ activities in their home, in particular the estimation of clothing and activity level throughout the record period. The preliminary monitoring results show that different householders are interacting with their home thermal comfort systems in very different ways, and that their responses diverge from the current predictive models. Further analysisexamines the factors influencing responses to thermal discomfort and thereby energy consumption of individual in dwellings.

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2013 Conference Proceedings (9)

Persistence of Energy Efficiency Behaviors over Time: Evidence from a Community-Based Program

Rather than providing incentives for the one-time purchase of technologies, behavior change programs rely on low- or no- cost actions to save energy and reduce demand. These actions must be sustained over time in order to be effective. Therefore, understanding the persistence of energy-saving actions is critical to incorporating behavior change programs into utility energy efficiency program portfolios. Unfortunately, there are few studies that have examined persistence of energy-saving actions over time.

This paper provides new results from an evaluation of a community-based energy efficiency program showing sustained energy efficiency behaviors over an 18-month time frame. Actions were sustained despite limited program follow-up and no financial incentives. The program, which is designed to encourage community members to commit to saving energy by signing a pledge form, uses a multi-pronged approach to reach out to as many community members as possible, and reinforces messages by relying on a variety of marketing efforts. These efforts include mass marketing, outreach at community events, and contests. Using a panel study with a random sample of pledgees, evaluators were able to ask pledgees about their energy-savings behaviors four times over the course of 18 months.

Results showed that participants conducted low-cost and no-cost actions, and they sustained these actions over time. Participants most commonly reported taking the following actions since pledging: switching off lights, switching off electronics, installing energy efficient lights, using computer power management, changing thermostat settings, and using a clothesline rather than a clothes dryer. Respondents who could recall their pledge were more likely to conduct their pledged action(s) compared to those respondents who could not recall their pledge. Furthermore, “high recallers” completed a significantly greater proportion of pledged actions compared to “low recallers.”

This paper includes a description of the program model, detailed results related to sustained behaviors over time, and recommendations for encouraging persistence and implementing behavior change programs. The authors also offer recommendations for setting up tracking systems early in the program launch to facilitate a more detailed understanding of pathways to program participation and behavior change.

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2014 Conference Proceedings (2)

Persistence of Behavioral Energy Management Activities and Savings in Commercial Office Buildings

Since 2007, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) has offered the Market Partners Program (MPP), which engages the Northwest’s commercial real estate firms to adopt strategic energy management (SEM) practices through the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Initiative. SEM is a holistic organizational consulting process aimed at reducing energy use and encompasses efficient equipment and efficient behavioral activities. Requiring engagement from building staff at all levels, this approach is an ongoing process through which NEEA helps firms develop an action plan that they can implement and revise over several years.

This paper presents the results from a quantitative and qualitative study of the persistence of SEM behaviors and savings at the MPP firms. We quantified annual energy savings by year of participation using a billing analysis. Note that one limitation of this analysis is that it cannot assign savings to individual projects or distinguish between savings generated by new or past projects; therefore, we surveyed MPP staff members to determine which activities remain in place from previous years. After assessing survey responses and reviewing documentation, we attempted to explain the annual savings trends.

We found that the majority of SEM activities (55%) were implemented during the first year of participation, 27% during the second year, 13% during the third year, and 4% during the remaining years. Respondents confirmed that 71% of activities were still in place. Respondents were unsure about 23% of the activities; because all but one of these were capital equipment measures, there is a high probability that these are also still in place. These data did not explain the electricity savings trend, where savings were highest during the first year of participation, decreased during the second year, and then were sustained at just over 3% during the remaining years. Energy savings were calculated at the program level, so there could be many other explanations, such as the possibility firms are implementing SEM at different buildings during different years.

2015 Conference Proceedings (8)

Why Doesn't 25 Years of an Evolving Energy Code Make More of a Difference?

New and more stringent building energy codes are implemented with the assumption and expectation that significant energy conservation will occur. While simulation and various analysis methodologies may be reasonably sound at estimating the energy impact, the actual impact is largely dependent upon new code enforcement and occupant behavior. This work is based upon the research question: Do homes built to a newer energy code deliver measurable energy savings compared to homes built to a much earlier energy code? This residential research study was focused on comparing measured energy use of new code to old code homes. The new code group represented homes built to the 2007 Florida energy code, with 2009 supplement. The old code group were built to the code in effect from June 1, 1984 to Dec. 31, 1985. Energy monitoring equipment was installed to measure whole house, space heating/cooling, and domestic hot water energy use. Interior temperature and relative humidity were also monitored. Using utility bill and end-use monitored data, savings for the new code homes were determined to be 13% for cooling energy, 39% for heating energy, and 5% for domestic hot water energy. The overall annual energy savings of space heating, cooling and domestic hot water were 13%. This paper presents the methodology of the research along with reasons why the measured savings are far less than predicted by simulations of homes built to the two codes. The results may be useful in policy decisions or evaluating the long-term implications of residential building energy codes.

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2016 Conference Proceedings (2)

The U.S. on 10-15 kWh/day

How much energy savings are possible from behavior change alone, absent significant retrofit investments?  A testing of this question motivated this residential case study, with over a decade’s worth of data. The test residence was the lead author’s roughly 2,500 sf vintage 1980 house in southeastern Pennsylvania, which doubles as his office.  During periods of single occupancy, energy usage averaged about 8 kWh and 2 ccf of gas per day, saving roughly $2,000 per year relative to typical residences of similar type and size.  With fuller occupancy, the figures were 14 kWh and 2 ccf.  This was achieved with old, low-efficiency HVAC equipment (12 SEER central air conditioner and 78% AFUE furnace) and minimal to non-existent comfort sacrifices.


How could consumption be this low?  Behavior change was the key driver – specifically, aggressive use of the set-back thermostat, very conscientious deployment of windows, shades, a whole-house fan, etc., coupled with conventional low-cost energy conservation measures, such as CFL and LED lighting.


Is this model widely replicable?  It may be, but it would require training of household members and may not be readily amenable to third-party profiteering.  Could utility house call programs integrate behavioral training for residents, using tested behavioral change theories as part of conventional energy audits?  In the age of climate change, deep savings are being sought from existing homes, but it may not be realistic to achieve them cost-effectively without considerable resident cooperation.

Commercial Strategic Energy Management: Approaches and Best Practices

It is a well-known adage that focused intent gets results! Nowhere is this more relevant -- or more important to the efficiency industry -- than in well-organized and implemented Strategic Energy Management (SEM) programs. SEM programs build lasting partnerships among program administrators and their customers and empower the customers to make smart energy decisions for their facilities. Focused on operational and process improvements, on identifying untapped capital projects and on people engagement, SEM efforts lead to deeper and long-term savings. As SEM begins to take hold in the market, similarities and differences are beginning to show up between program administrator efforts. Navigant conducted a Commercial SEM Best Practices study for a leading mid-west utility to identify the key drivers to success and approaches to effectively engage varying customer types or needs. This presentation will focus on study findings from the in-depth research and interviews with leading SEM program providers around the country. Our findings address the advantages and limitations of various Commercial SEM program models and targeted business types. The study identifies the elements and strategies that are critical to successfully implementing an SEM program, including project planning, people engagement, persistence of commitment, and measurement and verification. We also present a roadmap for program implementation and operation in the form of a best practices logic model, drawn from interviewees, which program administrators can use as an example to design and operate their own SEM program.

2017 Conference Proceedings (3)

The role of self-reporting in heating energy efficiency

Indoor comfort was earlier viewed as driven exclusively by the physics of the body’s heat exchange with its immediate thermal environment. There is now widespread recognition that a person’s thermal comfort and adaptation level, including behavioral aspects, physiological and psychological processes, including sense of control, influence comfort [1]. A stronger emphasis has been given not only to psychological parameters and their impact on satisfaction and productivity, but also to possibilities of energy saving in buildings while maintaining a high comfort standard [2]. A field study was conducted to consider the relationship between localized comfort control capabilities and self-reporting behavior. A significant effect was found for subjects’ frequency of self-reporting in relation to heating control behavior.

Making efficiency visible – Insights on effective nudging across decision styles and choice models

Engaging consumers in energy efficient behavior is challenging. Despite most consumers consistently claiming to care about energy efficiency – and even in cases where reported consumer attitudes toward energy saving and its positive impact on the environment are high – these attitudes often do not materialise in terms of behaviour, giving rise to the “attitude behaviour gap”. This paper reports results from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) focused on behavioral levers at the disposal of utilities or other program administrators in engaging consumers in more efficient 1-time consumer product purchases. They are quasi-field revealed preference studies, in which participants reveal product preferences in an ecologically valid setting, namely what respondents understood to be a test version of a new consumer comparison and shopping platform for appliances and products for the home, and which they were accessing from outside of a laboratory or obvious test setting.

The studies are based on a novel consumer-facing, utility-branded marketplace platform, which has been deployed in the USA and Europe by utilities serving 47 million households as of September 2017. These marketplaces integrate energy efficiency information in two ways. The first is a relative energy efficiency score, on a zero to 100 scale, assigned to each model in a product category, which can function as either a simple heuristic (just aim for the high number) or as a clear product attribute (concrete efficiency measure).

The experimental results presented suggest that the Enervee Score works across both the “hot”, more impulsive, attitude-based (brand) and “cold”, more deliberative, attribute-based decision-making styles. The same is not true of the second piece of information provided on the marketplace, namely personalized energy bill savings, presented in dollars, for a selected product model, compared to a benchmark new product.

This growing body of experimental results suggests that making efficiency visible (with the granular, daily updated Enervee Score, as well as personalized energy savings), and injecting these cues into the modern –  increasingly digital –  shopping journey, can nudge consumers to make more energy efficient purchasing decisions, paving the way for new data-driven, market based approaches.

2018 Conference Proceedings (1)

Tailoring climate change communication to female target groups – an experimental analysis of voting and consumer behavior in Switzerland

Climate change is a reality. Despite increasing materialization of this phenomenon and calls for immediate action to limit its underlying causes, only a limited uptake of pro-environmental behavior has been registered so far. One of its main reasons has been concluded to be the faulty pro-environmental communication, that is in most cases built ineffectively on erroneous assumptions about the nature of human behavior. The goal of the here presented research was thus to find out, what aspects communication strategy should be built on to motivate pro-environmental behavior, individual as well as collective. Considering the need to specialize communication strategies for higher impact and their potential swing voter role in Switzerland, a female target group was selected. To answer the research question, an experiment was conducted, exposing the participants to three variations of a communication strategy, preceded and followed by an online questionnaire. The results showed that shorter and, namely, peer effects-based strategies are the most effective to motivate pro-environmental action in general and among women in particular. The conclusions of this experiment thus importantly contribute to the on-going discussion on how to effectively communicate to motivate pro-environmental action, with insightful findings for both practice and further research.

2019 Conference Proceedings (1)

Utility investment vs. consumer loans: Getting to yes on energy efficiency through inclusive financing for all

Since 2001, eighteen utilities in eight states have received approval from their utility regulators or oversight boards to offer tariffed on-bill programs for energy efficiency upgrades. Tariffed on-bill programs facilitate site-specific investment with site-specific cost recovery, and they are accessible to all residential customers, regardless of credit score, income, or renter status of the customer. Although most of these utilities serve relatively small service areas in rural regions, they have deployed more than $40 million for thousands of cost effective energy efficiency upgrades with a cost recovery rate averaging above 99.9%, even in persistent poverty areas. This utility business model has produced key performance indicators that diverge from loan-based on-bill financing programs. Factors such as doubling the eligible population, higher offer acceptance rates, and deeper savings have a compounding effect resulting in much higher growth in investment compared to programs that depend on unsecured consumer credit products. These results produce a striking picture of consumer choice when customers are faced with options between taking out a loan and accepting an offer of utility investment, which does not entail a means test for participation and assignment of a personal debt obligation. Because tariffed on-bill programs have succeeded in multiple areas of persistent poverty, the high velocity of investment observed would contradict the notion that certain customer segments are "hard to reach" or "difficult to serve." Instead, tariffed on-bill programs are generating data that show the customer response is robustly positive when utilities are able to make investments and provide a pathway to ownership for customers based on the cost effectiveness of efficiency upgrades rather than the credit of individual consumers.