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Where can I find research/expertise on behavioural science and energy consumption?

Seb Kennedy's picture
Founding Editor Energy Flux newsletter

I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

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I'm researching for a deep-dive article for Energy Flux about the role of behavioural change in meeting energy decarbonisation/climate targets.

Can anyone here point me towards a source of research in this field, to better understand the scope and potential for reducing wasteful energy consumption habits, and the limitations of different policy approaches?

Many thanks!

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Hi Seb,

I just provided information about the BECC conference but also wanted to say that I served as the Director of the Climate, Mind and Behavior Program at the Garrison Institute and have done quite a bit of other related work. Would love to talk with you.


Seb, unfortunately with climate change we're in uncharted waters. You might look into the tendency of some species to self-destruct as a result of helpful behaviours which became harmful in changed circumstances. See Is Humanity Designed to Self-Destruct? and other similar articles.

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 19, 2021

I do like the Big Picture, but that's maybe too big even for me! At least for this piece. Thanks for sharing, v. interesting abstract.

We launched a tool called the Luta app after researching exactly what you are looking to do. While NILM or non invasive load monitoring is a solution proposed by some to help electricity users understand their consumption in detail, I believe a better solution is to provide a gentle "nudge" to help such users change their behaviour for both individual and societal good.

 Hence, Luta's research shows that providing energy (electricity, gas and gasoline) related customized information to nudge users to lower energy consumption and lifestyle, can lead to the desired behavioral change.

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 19, 2021

Thanks Atul for this. Do you have a link to further info about Luta?

I would suggest reaching out to the evaluation community as this is an area of particular interest. The IEPEC website publishes a lot of papers on this topic, as does AESP. Another resource would be ACEEE which also publishes white papers on this topic. Lastly, there is a Behaviorial Conference that is hosted through IEPEC and ACEEE that has links to several research institutions.

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 19, 2021

Thanks Katherine, I'm now googling those acronyms. Do you have any links to hand to the white papers you mention?

Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez's picture
Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez on Jun 17, 2021

Hi Seb, I am a sociologist who has been working on these topics and am also one of the cofounders of the Behavior, Energy, Climate Change Conference which has been running for 14 or 15 years now and is focused on this topic. The conference is cohosted by ACEEE, the California Institute for Energy and Environment and Stanford University. I would be happy to discuss this topic with you.

The three possibilities that come to mind are the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT (CEEPR), Professor Michael Greenstone at the University of Chicago, and Cambridge University in England. 

MIT CEEPR has published results from studies that looked at policies that were intended to improve efficiency that did not have the intended results.  For example, the government had a policy to subsidize adding insulation in older homes for people below a certain income level.  Not that many took advantage of the program.  I also seem to recall a report on a study done in Mexico about increased efficiency air conditioners.  The director of CEEPR is Chris Knittel.  Contact information can be found on the MIT CEEPR website, along with several papers and reports. 

Michael Greenstone was at MIT and is now at the University of Chicago.  He has done one of the few studies that quantitatively calculated the benefits (or lack thereof) of actual reductions of air pollution.  This is a problem of "closing the loop" because we don't really have data on what would have happened if we didn't reduce the concentrations of the various criteria pollutants in the atmosphere. 

Cambridge University carried out public polls every 3 or 4 years in both the US and UK to try to get an understanding of public perception of things like climate change and environmental issues.  One of the criteria was that respondents could not be scientists or engineers working in the field.

I'd say look at OPower which as I recall was acquired by Oracle. Alex Latsky was the guy running back in 2007, and was there at least thru 2013.

Whatever the theory, OPower was achieving results with on-bill benchmarking of ratepayers against their neighbors.

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 19, 2021

Oh wow I had never heard of OPower - their website looks highly relevant to this. Thank you!

Hi Seb,

I found it also difficult to find research on this issue. Maybe you already know that that TED Talks also addressed this important issue:

This has been a research by Alex.

It might be even more fun TED Talks.

I hope this helps.



Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 13, 2021

Thanks Norbert, I'll check it out.

I have a few academic papers that discuss philosophical issues such as energy sufficiency and qualitative abundance, which are very interesting. But I would like to anchor my piece in the real world by looking at examples of where policies have tried to change people's wasteful energy behaviours, and the lessons learned.

All the best,


Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on May 19, 2021

Having now watched that TED Talk, this is very helpful and a useful example of what works (and doesn't work) in behavioural change. We humans certainly are primitive beasts!

Thanks again for sharing


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