Guide to Behavioural Energy Efficiency

Group of people in winter wear at a city intersection.
Photo by Michael M on Unsplash

Understanding and promoting behavioral energy efficiency is not just about motivating people to turn off unused lights; it digs deeper into the psychology of habits, utilizing behavioral nudges to foster energy-efficient behaviors. This approach enables utility companies to guide their customers to better understand their energy patterns and adopt responsible energy consumption habits, supported by integrating emerging technologies that are reshaping the energy sector landscape.

Adjusting daily energy usage habits can lead to substantial savings and a smaller carbon footprint. It’s not about grand gestures but simple, daily changes that can pave the way to a sustainable future. 

In this guide, we make behavioral energy efficiency easy to understand. Whether you’re a utility company or someone looking to reduce energy use at home, there’s something here for you. Let’s learn about the simple strategies that can foster a culture of energy consciousness, benefiting both you and the environment.

What is behavioral energy efficiency?

Behavioral Energy Efficiency (BEE) is about guiding individuals to save energy through small yet significant changes in their daily routines. This concept is rooted in fostering conscious decisions and promoting habits that encourage sustainable energy use. It goes beyond merely recommending energy-efficient appliances, taking a broader approach to encourage energy-saving habits through energy-efficiency marketing strategies.

Utility companies are well-positioned to champion this energy-conscious approach. By offering timely advice and insights into energy consumption patterns, they can motivate consumers to adopt energy-saving routines. For example, suggesting the use of appliances during off-peak hours to reduce energy costs and strain on the grid.
At MyHEAT, we collaborate with utility companies and cities to amplify this initiative. Leveraging our aerial mapping technology, we offer detailed heat loss maps and solar roof maps that provide in-depth insight into the energy efficiency potential of individual homes. This collaborative effort not only aids individuals in reducing energy bills but fosters a community conscientiously working towards a sustainable future.

The science behind behavioral energy efficiency

The core of Behavioral Energy Efficiency is understanding the nuances of human behavior to encourage sustainable choices. It leverages the concept of “behavioral nudges,” subtle prompts that guide individuals to make desired choices without feeling coerced.

Think of it as arranging a store where healthier snacks are more accessible, encouraging shoppers to opt for them over less healthy alternatives placed out of immediate sight. Similarly, utility companies can structure choices to make energy-saving options more appealing or even the default choice, thus encouraging better habits.

Types of behavioral nudges

Behavioral nudges come in various forms including:

  • Setting default options: which are the pre-set choices that are automatically selected if an individual doesn’t specify a preference.
  • Creating a psychological anchor: which is a technique used to encourage people to decide based on a reference point.
  • Comparison to social or other ‘norms’: Humans are innately wired to compare aspects of their world to others, and more often than not, to align their behaviors with others in an effort to conform. This behavior stems from our early beginnings as humans, where belonging to a group, community, or tribe led to greater chance of survival. 
  • Informing people: which involves providing individuals with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Examples of behavioral nudges for energy efficiency

In the context of energy efficiency, nudges are integrated into various strategies to promote smarter energy use. For example:

  • Choice architecture: Utility companies could structure options such that the energy-saving choice is the most appealing or the default option.
  • Feedback loops: Regular updates on energy consumption can nudge consumers to maintain or adopt energy-saving habits.
  • Insightful data visualization: Offering homeowners visual insights into areas with high energy consumption or heat loss in the home, for example with a building heat map, encouraging them to address these issues and adopt energy-saving measures.
  • Neighbor/Social comparison: Comparing one home’s energy efficiency to others, using MyHEAT’s 1-10 HEAT Rating, for example, is an effective way to shift energy conservation behaviors toward the “norm” of other homes.

For a deeper understanding and to witness the transformative potential of behavioral nudging strategies in action, see our heat loss map demo, a visual tool that brings energy efficiency to life. Implementing a series of well-thought-out nudges can guide individuals toward sustained energy-efficient behavior, fostering a culture of conscious energy use, one nudge at a time.

Benefits of behavioral energy efficiency for customers and utilities

Behavioral energy efficiency has a ripple effect, not just benefiting the environment, but also enhancing the relationship between utilities and customers while driving down energy costs for all.

1. Increased customer engagement and satisfaction

Understanding how and when energy is consumed in your home is the first step in reducing unnecessary energy waste. When customers have access to detailed insights into their energy usage patterns, they can take steps to manage their consumption more effectively.

2. Enrolment in Demand Side Management (DSM) programs

DSM programs, such as time-of-use pricing and energy efficiency rebates, are designed to influence consumer behavior toward using less energy during peak hours. Behavioral energy efficiency serves as a cornerstone in increasing participation in such programs, guiding customers to enroll and reap the benefits.

3. Utility-wide energy savings

The potential of behavioral energy efficiency doesn’t stop at individual households; it stretches to encompass a utility-wide scope, significantly reducing overall energy consumption. The approach paves the way for a future where energy-saving programs can scale to new heights, bringing about a substantial decrease in utility costs across the board.

Behavioral energy efficiency in action: Leveraging heat loss maps for energy conservation

In an ambitious program to foster energy savings, the City of Medicine Hat partnered with MyHEAT to initiate a behavioral change campaign, leveraging the power of visual imagery to nudge homeowners into adopting energy-efficient practices. The initiative comprised a randomized controlled trial involving roughly 4,600 homes per group, segmenting them into three categories: a Heat Loss Comparison group, a Home Energy Report (HER) group, and a control group.

The pivotal strategy was the introduction of personalized Heat Maps and HEAT Ratings on utility bills for the Heat Loss Comparison group, illustrating the heat loss details of individual homes and comparing them with neighboring houses and the city average. This visual representation aimed to encourage homeowners to undertake measures to reduce their energy consumption, emphasizing the potential savings on utility bills.

The results were substantial, showcasing a significant impact on energy conservation. The homes in the Heat Loss Comparison group, which received detailed thermal imagery insights, recorded a notable 8.1% reduction in natural gas consumption per $100 of estimated utility bill savings, outperforming the 1.3% reduction observed in the HER group. Furthermore, this group demonstrated a heightened propensity to engage in weatherization and building envelope-specific programs, exhibiting a 28% increase in applications, thus underscoring the success of the campaign in promoting energy-efficient behaviors. The initiative stands as a testament to the potential of behavioral energy efficiency in driving substantial energy savings and fostering a culture of conscious energy consumption.

Read the full case study on How the City of Medicine Hat Motivated Energy Saving Action

The future of behavioral energy efficiency

As we navigate forward, the integration of emerging technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things) and smart devices stands as a beacon of evolution in the realm of behavioral energy efficiency. These advancements open doors to a world where your home not only conserves energy but learns and adapts to consumption patterns, making energy-saving a seamlessly automated process.

Taking it a step further, the incorporation of aerial thermal mapping technology is setting a new standard for the future of energy efficiency. This innovation allows for a more detailed analysis of energy consumption patterns, offering a detailed perspective on areas where energy efficiency can be enhanced, and paving the way for more targeted and effective energy-saving strategies – for example, by creating full city-scale residential heat loss maps and residential solar maps.

Moreover, there’s a budding synergy between behavioral energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, including smart grids that foster a more sustainable energy ecosystem. The future looks promising with possibilities of homes that are not just energy-efficient but energy-intelligent.

Shortcomings of behavioral energy efficiency

While behavioral energy efficiency can encourage positive change for individuals and for entire utility customer groups, resulting in reduced energy usage, one of behavioral energy efficiency’s biggest drawbacks is that reductions in energy use can sometimes be short-lived. 

Building occupants can be nudged into adopting more energy-efficiency behaviors like turning off lights, lowering their thermostat temperatures, or finding other ways to reduce energy use, but over time, these behaviors can be forgotten, discontinued and ignored. When this happens, energy consumption tends to creep back up, removing any gains previously made. 

It’s for this reason, among others, that the State of New York recently defined behavioral energy efficiency measures as “Non-Strategic”, and encouraged utility companies to shift their focus and investment away from behavioral programs. 

While MyHEAT utilizes behavioral nudging techniques to better engage with building occupants, the primary messages delivered via Heat Loss Maps focus on achieving long-term, permanent and non-reversible energy savings with weatherization and electrification. 

Key takeaways about nudging energy-saving behavior

As we have seen, behavioral energy efficiency isn’t just a concept; it’s a dynamic and actionable strategy that guides consumers toward more sustainable energy usage through informed daily decisions. From utility companies structuring choices to make energy-saving options more appealing, to individuals getting regular updates on their energy usage and tips on how to save more – every step counts.

But we’re not stopping at nudges. Innovations like aerial mapping technology are augmenting the capacity of behavioral energy efficiency, offering unprecedented insights into energy consumption patterns and unveiling opportunities for more targeted and effective energy-saving strategies. In fact, while behavioral energy efficiency strategies like Home Energy Reports typically deliver annual energy savings in the 1-2% range, innovations like real-time usage alerts can deliver above 5%, and thermal imagery even more, often above 7%.

These strategies are not just reshaping individual homes but are also steering communities towards a future of energy intelligence, where conservation meets convenience.

Want to achieve your energy efficiency goals with MyHEAT?

There’s a map for that. Explore the potential of behavioral energy efficiency with MyHEAT, trusted by leading utility companies and governments across the US and Canada. Through unique aerial heat loss maps and solar maps, we drive substantial results, steering building occupants towards energy-efficient actions with proven visual insights. Experience a significant reduction in energy consumption and foster enhanced engagement with MyHEAT. 

Get in touch with MyHEAT to discuss how we can help you reach your program goals.

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