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Opportunities for behavioral energy efficiency and flexible demand in data-limited low-carbon resource constrained environments


Sensor networks, information and communication technologies, and advances in behavioral science can allow for the design and implementation of inclusive information and automation systems for ongoing low-carbon transitions. Here, we present results of the first randomized pilot providing tandem behavioral energy efficiency and flexible demand services through the use of distributed sensor networks in Latin America (Managua, Nicaragua). We show that the houses and micro-enterprises randomly assigned to the intervention reduced their energy consumption by nine percent relative to the control group, and participated at length in peak-shaving flexible demand events (≥80% of events). Identified social co-benefits included increased energy literacy, financial management and user empowerment, and find that improved access to energy information was more important than cash when incentivizing project participation with a high user willingness to pay. Several challenges may hinder the success of smart systems in resource constrained environments, including temporal and financial scarcity at the household level, lack of institutional support, and a panoply of top-down misaligned incentives. We document the multiple barriers to scale flexible demand and energy efficiency strategies, including bottom-up (e.g., appliance financing) and top-down (e.g., decoupling) challenges and discuss ways to overcome them. As more low, low-middle income countries transition away from fossil fuels, the use of sensor networks and information and communication technologies for building smart and inclusive smart systems will become increasingly necessary and attractive.

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