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NSF award: Kaitlin Raimi uses behavioral insights to reduce household energy consumption

September 13, 2017

Kaitlin Raimi and colleagues from the College of Engineering (SangHyun Lee) and College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (Philip S. Hart) have received a $330,000 award from the National Science Foundation to explore a new technique designed to encourage consumers to reduce their household electricity use.

“In the past few years, utilities have started using a number of techniques that are based on psychology research,” says Raimi, a social psychologist who explores how social motivations can promote or prevent sustainable behaviors.

Raimi is referring to personalized communications that utilities send to their customers, which highlight their energy use compared to the energy use of their neighbors. “Research shows if consumers get information that they’re doing worse than their neighbors, they will often reduce their energy use to keep up with the Joneses,” says Raimi.

The trio will employ hourly energy usage data to develop and test novel comparison groups based on when people consume electricity—such as night owls, early birds, weekend warriors, and more. The idea is that comparisons to people who use electricity at the same time of day—and thus have a similar lifestyle—might be even more powerful than comparisons to people who happen to live nearby. “It’s important to give people feedback based on the comparison groups that are most meaningful to them,” says Raimi.

The project will be led by principal investigator SangHyun Lee, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.