Facing the energy challenge: From understanding behavioural strategies and mental models to behaviour change in work and domestic contexts

K. L. van den Broek; E. Gabe-Thomas; J. Goodhew; S. Pahl (chair); C. Boomsma; R. Hafner. Location: Heymanszaal

Symposium: Facing the energy challenge: From understanding behavioural strategies and mental models to behaviour change in work and domestic contexts 

Organiser: S. Pahl

Worldwide we are facing numerous energy challenges: e.g. diminishing resources, energy security issues and fuel poverty. This symposium brings together different approaches to facing the energy challenge, beginning with people’s understanding of energy use and heat dynamics and ending with field research testing interventions. All contributors work in multidisciplinary contexts with building scientists, engineers and business / market experts, and most are early career researchers. Van den Broek investigates how people make decisions about the energy consumption of common household items. Gabe-Thomas extends this approach by devising categories of energy behaviour and household types. Goodhew focuses on heat specifically and presents mental models of home heating. These three talks provide a basis for interventions that are truly informed by a ‘people perspective’. Next, Pahl follows the home heating angle by presenting longitudinal results from a thermal imaging visualisation intervention in the field. Boomsma presents another field study focusing on energy saving in a pressured workplace, also exploring the feasibility of a visualisation intervention. Finally, Hafner reviews how psychological insights can help the market for energy-efficient technologies and provides a framework for behaviour change. Throughout, the talks will discuss the opportunities and challenges of applied multidisciplinary work in the energy context.

How do we judge the energy consumption of our household devices? An exploration of the decision making processes that leads to an energy judgment

K. L. van den Broek & I. Walker

What strategies do people use to judge the energy consumption of household devices? In an exploratory study, groups of participants (N = 28) were asked to rank household devices according to their energy consumption. Discussions were recorded and inductive thematic analysis identified 35 strategies used to judge the rank order. These findings suggest the process of judging an appliance’s energy requirements is highly complex. A subsequent study validated and quantified these strategies. An online survey had participants (N=255) judge the energy consumption of ten common household devices and indicate which of the 35 strategies had been used to make this decision. The results confirm the wider population use the same strategies and demonstrate which are most commonly used when judging the energy consumption of every day appliances. Finally, the strategies are further explored using implicit measures. Participants (N=88) rated the energy consumption of household devices after being primed with the 6 most common strategies. Results show which strategies were validated and their effect on the accuracy of the energy judgement. Knowing how people make such judgements is integral to changing their behaviour, from curtailment of high energy consuming appliances, to efficiency behaviours such as buying the most energy efficient appliances.

Energy taxonomies: Exploring the influences of domestic energy consumption at the household and behavioural level

E. Gabe-Thomas, I. Walker, & B.Verplanken

Domestic energy consumption is the product of many different behaviours and decisions made by householders who themselves differ in terms of constraints and motivations. Current energy interventions do not account for such variations. We present a taxonomy of household types and energy behaviours derived from clustering techniques which can be used to inform the design of tailored energy interventions. Behaviours associated with energy consumption and potential behavioural antecedents of energy saving were measured alongside energy consumption data in a longitudinal study as part of a larger interdisciplinary project. First, the relative influences of psychological factors on a range of different domestic energy-relevant behaviours were explored. The results suggest that different behaviours are influenced by different factors and may require different intervention strategies. Second, the households themselves were clustered on their responses to the behavioural antecedents of energy saving. Two predominant household profiles were revealed that were relatively similar in term of constraints but differed considerably on energy saving motivations. Differences between these household profiles were found for several indications of energy consumption. Together, the findings have implications for the study of energy use, as well as for the design of energy reduction interventions and energy policies.

Exploring mental models of home heating

J. Goodhew, C. Boomsma, S.Pahl, & S. Goodhew

The behaviour surrounding the heating of buildings is an important part of energy conservation. Interventions aimed at promoting heat conservation often communicate technical information. However, individuals hold cognitive beliefs or mental models to interpret such information.  If mental models differ from the technical explanation of heating and related appliances, individuals can misinterpret or reinterpret communications to fit the model they hold.  Mental models are representations, not ‘truths’, but they are ‘models’ in that individuals use them to predict actions. Therefore, understanding the popular and prevailing mental models is important when designing communications.  A qualitative research study explored the prevailing mental models around home heating and the use of heating related appliances.  Using a semi structured interview approach, as described in the risk communication literature, 25 participants were asked to explain how they imagined home heating devices working to keep them warm. Participants were also asked to describe how they imagine heat flows in the home.  Two differing models of thermostat operation were reported by the cohort.  Individuals used one of four distinctly different mental models to predict and explain how a building becomes warm.  Findings are discussed in terms of the implications for designing energy (heat) conservation interventions.

The power of thermal imaging to change energy understanding and action

S. Pahl, J. Goodhew, C. Boomsma, & S. Goodhew

It is widely agreed that new societal solutions for energy use are required, including generating energy from non-fossil fuels and increasing energy efficiency. However, people find it difficult to understand energy use and waste, and many researchers have called for energy visualisation. We use thermal imaging to visualise heat escaping from domestic homes. Thermal cameras visualise surface temperatures and can be used to diagnose building defects. We focus on the use of thermal imaging as a motivational tool. Both cognitive (e.g., mental imagery after exposure to a thermal imaging report) and social (sharing the report with others) outcomes are investigated. The focus of this presentation will be on new longitudinal data from a study comparing three conditions: tailored (thermal images of one’s own home) vs. targeted (of a generic home) vs. control (no thermal images). Householders in the tailored condition reported taking twice as many energy efficiency actions than did householders in the targeted or control condition at a 1-year follow-up. We will integrate the new data into insights from our overall programme of work and discuss the technical and psychological limitations of using thermal imaging to engage householders in energy efficiency action.

Encouraging energy saving in the workplace: Reflections from a field study

C. Boomsma, J.Goodhew, S.Pahl, & R.Jones

There is a lack of research investigating energy use in the workplace. The workplace offers a distinct context, with specific barriers and opportunities for energy saving. A field study examined the use of feedback, focusing on UK local government staff in demanding social service jobs. Next to the study results, the challenges of changing energy behaviour in the workplace are illustrated using both quantitative and qualitative data. At baseline, staff reported multiple reasons to conserve energy at work.  Their personal norm to conserve energy was higher than, and somewhat at odds with, the prevailing social norm within the office. Staff reported frequent energy saving actions; however, barriers were identified that prevented them from doing more. A website providing near real-time feedback on electricity use was made available to staff. Those who visited the website talked more frequently to their colleagues about energy saving and waste. In turn it may have enabled staff to imagine electricity use and waste more readily. But, the effect of feedback was limited by wider issues in the building. These important interactions between the feedback intervention and study context will be discussed, along with recommendations for future research in this area.

Reviewing psychological barriers to behaviour change in the energy efficient solutions market

R. Hafner

Energy consumption in buildings accounts for 40% of end-use energy in the European Union, and reductions in consumption are key to achieving the substantial EU2020 CO2 targets. Low-energy buildings, passive houses and zero-emission renovation are all important measures in reaching this goal. However, end user behaviour must be taken into account to maximise the benefits from new technology. We aim to determine how understanding people’s behaviour can support the adoption and use of energy efficient technologies, and how these solutions may come to market with commercially successful business models  without relying on financial subsidies, which alone are not sufficient to cause lasting, wide spread behaviour change. We review psychological processes which impact on individual decision making in the context of home heating choice. From this a series of incentives or ‘nudges’ are developed that may limit the impact of psychological barriers on consumer decision making. We focus on, for example, social norms, emphasising public choice of “green” technologies, reframing of benefits, simplifying and optimising the choice environment, and changing the temporal structure of costs and benefits.  We provide a framework for initiating behaviour change with regard to increasing uptake of new technologies in the energy efficient solutions market.