Renewable energy: Investigating the role of social reward and contagion
London School of Economics and Political Science
To conduct their study, the lead investigator and her team will conduct two field experiments, both looking to engage the public: one on green energy adoption and the other on the use of in-home smart plugs. "The first experiment consists in randomly providing a subset of UK households the opportunity to display visible signposting publicizing their renewable energy supply," Dr. Greer Gosnell specifies. "In particular, through on an on-going partnership with a prominent UK-based renewable energy supplier, we will investigate two things: first, whether individuals derive utility from eliciting social reward from otherwise invisible pro-environmental behaviors; and second, whether neighbors/peers are more likely to adopt said behaviors as a result of visible localized norm shifts".
The smart plug experiment –entitled POWBAL (short for ‘power balancing’), which is the name of the online user interface that will be made available to study participants –has a more technological focus. It aims to investigate people’s acceptance and use of initiatives that encourage consumers to optimize their energy use, also called energy demand management, or demand-side management (DSM). Specifically, the research team aims to assess and model participation in technologies like smart plug installation and remote management. "While DSM has been touted as one of the most cost-effective and immediate solutions in dealing with the intermittent energy supply of renewable technologies, little causal evidence exists surrounding consumers’ actual responses to DSM approaches. Many behavioral studies have attempted to increase the flexibility of energy demand to decrease the need for ‘dirty’ back-up power plants during periods of peak demand or low renewable generation. Likewise, many researchers have investigated the varied effects of social norms on energy consumption. Little research, however, applies social norms to household-level technology adoption nor to demand-side management outcomes. Even more novel is the use of smart plug devices to directly manage background energy consumption in the residential sector.
"Such innovative research initiatives on how to boost the adoption of 'green’ technologies at the household level are a crucial addition to energy transition research. As Dr. Greer Gosnell points out herself, state-level action plans alone are not sufficient: "Facing political economy constraints and decarbonization mandates, governments must rely on pro-environmental behavior at the microeconomic level to increase energy conservation and to supplement investment in renewable energy infrastructure." By boosting demand for smart and renewable energy supply to force energy suppliers to adapt and enabling intermittent generation via consumer engagement with smart technologies, the present project holds great potential for effective and applicable output.
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