Studies indicate that although people are often aware of the benefits of using energy more efficiently, a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors often prevent them from doing so. Even when high efficiency technologies have been installed, 30 percent or more of the energy savings that could potentially be realized through such technologies is lost, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). In July 2009, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) introduced H.R. 3247 to establish a social and behavioral sciences research program at the U.S. Department of Energy.

This briefing was presented in conjunction with the 2009 Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) Conference, which was co-convened by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (Stanford University), and the California Institute for Energy and Environment (University of California).

On November 18, 2009, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the importance of engaging the American public to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through people-centered programs and policies. Much of the recent discussion on energy efficiency has focused on technologies. However, rapid and large scale change in energy use will ultimately be determined by the number of people who are engaged and empowered to put those technologies to good use and to redefine their own energy service demands. This briefing examined how and why people use (or don’t use) energy efficient technologies, initiatives being deployed by the U.S. military, utilities and communities, and the economic and environmental benefits for households, businesses, and the nation.

  • Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) said that “we have tremendous opportunities for tremendous savings” and that the industrialized world should strive for 20 percent reduction in energy consumption in 20 weeks. The link between behavioral science and energy use will play a key role in solving our energy crisis, our economic crisis, and our geopolitical crisis.
  • Simple behavioral changes in the United States could result in a 25-30 percent energy savings, the equivalent of the energy produced by 240 medium-sized coal-fired power plants. This would prevent the emission of 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
  • Programs designed to encourage energy-saving behavior need to target specific actions, identify barriers to these actions and create ways to overcome these barriers.
  • Pilot tests should be carried out first before providing “turn key” solutions to communities nationwide. Two hundred Canadian cities have implemented a successful anti-idling program called NRCan Turnkey Toolkit, which focuses on person-to-person interactions rather than just signs and pamphlets. Frequency of idling dropped by 32 percent.
  • Despite its protective culture and massive bureaucratic inertia, the military’s emphasis on continuing education, discipline, and dedication to mission over self can help effect behavioral change. Military personnel educated in energy efficiency will enter back into the workforce after serving and help engage the public.
  • Most energy-saving behaviors that people exhibit are hard to track, but making these behaviors visible results in more behavioral changes.
  • Convenience is one of the best motivators to get people to engage in activities to help save energy.
  • Over 85 percent of the U.S. population would like to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. We need to develop programs that make it more convenient for Americans to do something they already want to do.