Moderate energy savings from feedback devices, review of large scale studies finds


Ben Foster,
Senior Analyst,
Washington, DC, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — February 24, 2012 – Large scale consumer pilots using real time feedback technologies have led to electricity savings ranging from 0 to 19.5 percent, with average savings of 3.8 percent, according to a new study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The study, Results from Recent Real-Time Feedback Studies, reviews nine studies undertaken in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, focusing on the interventions providing direct, real time feedback on electricity consumption and prices. These include in-home displays, web interfaces and prepayment meters.

The largest savings (19.5 percent) came from the replacement of pre-existing prepayment meters in Northern Ireland with new prepayment meters with real time display (Northern Ireland Experiment trial). Conversely two trials (by Com Ed and Scottish Power) found no aggregate effect of real time feedback on electricity consumption. However, this lack of savings may be due to the trial design, resulting in savings being masked by their lack in the larger population, as well as to issues experienced with the adoption and installation of the feedback technologies.

The report says that one of the most promising results is that a small percentage of households in several of the pilots had large savings up to 25 percent. However, these “cyber sensitives,” who seem to respond more readily to feedback, are difficult to identify as they cut across demographic lines, suggesting that real time feedback may be deployed most cost effectively as a “boutique” energy efficiency strategy aimed at groups that are more likely to actively monitor their energy use.

“The level of savings is modest but encouraging, given the number of factors that appear to influence the use of feedback devices,” commented Ben Foster, senior analyst at ACEEE and lead author of the report.

These factors include the design of the devices and the types of content they provide, the degree to which these devices enable the various tasks people want to accomplish using the information provided, and negotiations between members of the household that influence energy use.

The report concludes by questioning whether efforts to entice the “less sensitive” to save through feedback programs are a good utility investment, stating that from the limited data reviewed the cost of providing the feedback remains high. More and different kinds of research need to be done to better understand the actions and investments that households may be making to save energy in response to real time feedback. Ethnographic research methods, while producing data that is highly context specific, could provide insights that have a large impact on the design of more effective programs, policies and technologies.