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July 20, 2015

Do smart electricity meters 'turn on' conservation?

Scientists test different conservation messages to find out which have the most impact on energy consumption

With smart electricity meters, consumers can measure electricity usage in real time, even find out how they stack up against their neighbors. But, does having that information impact consumers' electricity usage?

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), environmental economist Magali Delmas and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to find out with a unique behavioral science experiment called ENGAGE. They want to better understand both how people respond to information about the environment and change their behavior in response to that information.

The researchers wired 120 apartments with smart electricity meters and then tracked residents' responses to detailed feedback about energy consumption habits. The research team found that non-monetary messages that framed electricity consumption in terms of environmental and health impacts were more effective at reducing energy use than monetary messages that framed electricity consumption in terms of cost savings.

The research is this episode was supported by NSF award #1257189, ENGAGE - Behavioral responses to advanced energy metering technology: A large scale experiment.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.