Rethinking energy consumption feedback in everyday life

Burchell, Kevin and Rettie, Ruth (2014) Rethinking energy consumption feedback in everyday life. In: 2nd Energy & Society Conference: Energy Transitions as Societal Transitions: Challenges for the Present and the Future; 4-6 Jun 2014, Krakow, Poland. (Unpublished)


The provision of energy consumption feedback to householders has emerged as an important energy consumption reduction strategy, and smart meter roll-outs with in-home displays (IHDs) are planned in a number of countries. The rationale behind this approach is supported by theory in a range of disciplines and the largest meta-review to date suggests that reductions in consumption of 9% are feasible (Ehrhardt-Martinez 2010). However, recent ethnographic work – including our own – focuses on the ways in which everyday life constrains the effectiveness of current forms of consumption feedback. In this paper we build on this work to suggest four ways in which energy consumption feedback might prompt greater reductions in consumption. 1. Since energy per se is often not meaningful or salient to householders, we propose that consumption feedback should be oriented around the practices that are recognisable and meaningful in people’s everyday lives. 2. Current forms of feedback often fail to challenge practices that are treated as normal or immutable; for this reason, we propose that feedback should be designed to disrupt current practices (for instance, by the inclusion of normative messages about waste). 3. Since long-term engagement with IHDs is identified as challenging, we propose that feedback should be accompanied by on-going communications designed to prolong engagement. 4. Engagement with IHDs is often limited to one household member and this can lead to household conflict; to tackle this issue, we suggest that feedback devices are designed to facilitate text and graphic communication to prompt household discussion.

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