Behavior & Human Dimensions

Understanding human behavior is critical for achieving the goals of energy efficiency. Whether we are purchasing goods, using energy to service our homes and workplaces, or responding to the constraints placed upon us by technology and systems that surround us, human behavior is the key.

Everything always comes back to behavior, even when the discussion turns upon the installation of technology: No matter how efficient the light bulb standard is, people still need to get to the hardware store, select the right bulb, take it home, install it, and use it properly before the benefits can be realized.

Behavior and the Human Dimensions of Energy Use is a growing area of interest to utilities, businesses, and governments at the federal, state, and local levels. Institutions or agencies working to promote energy efficiency benefits should incorporate a behavioral perspective to improve the reach and impact of their programs. Energy professionals can use social science to shape the ways in which programs can benefit customers and their usage of energy-derived goods and services. Specific areas in which social science is informing the work of energy efficiency are:

Going beyond information. Technology and program design should go beyond informing to directly engaging energy users in new decisions or action that reduce energy use.

Understanding context. Energy-efficient outcomes are fostered through changes in our social, natural, and built environments.

Leveraging technology. Technology enhances energy efficiency efforts by giving energy users greater control and real-time information about their energy use.

Navigating social networks. Energy efficiency is encouraged through communicating social norms, creating opportunities to compete with peers, and using trusted messengers to relay information.

Using strategic rewards. Targeted incentives and rewards increase participation and commitment to energy efficiency actions.

Raising the profile of energy. Energy must become concrete and visible to people in real-time, rather than abstract and after the fact.

To learn about ACEEE’s research on behavior, visit the ACEEE Behavior & Human Dimensions Program page.