Letter

Domestic uptake of green energy promoted by opt-out tariffs

  • Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 868871 (2015)
  • doi:10.1038/nclimate2681
  • Download Citation
Received:
Accepted:
Published:

Abstract

Motivating individuals to choose energy from sustainable sources over conventionally produced power constitutes one of the biggest policy challenges for societies1,2. Here we present the results of a randomized controlled trial in Germany that tested the impact of default rules (that is, a type of ‘nudging’) on voluntary purchases of ‘green’ energy contracts that entirely stem from renewable resources. Setting the default choice to more expensive ‘green’ energy (that is, where consumers have to actively opt out if they do not want it) increased purchases of such nearly tenfold. Furthermore, county-level political preference for the green party uniquely predicted behaviour in the absence of the nudge, suggesting that default setting potentially overrules motivational aspects of green energy purchases. In follow-up experiments, we provide further evidence that the effect does not seem to be driven by unawareness. Summarizing, the present research provides an example of using behavioural science3,4,5,6,7,8,9 for climate change mitigation and shows alternatives to the use of subsidies or other economic incentives.

  • Subscribe to Nature Climate Change for full access:

    $59

    Subscribe

Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.

References

  1. 1.

    , , , & Comparing the effectiveness of moral versus monetary motives in environmental campaigning. Nature Clim. Change 3, 413–416 (2012).

  2. 2.

    & Commitment and voluntary energy conservation. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 2, 27–31 (1976).

  3. 3.

    Social norms and energy consumption. J. Public Econ. 95, 1082–1095 (2011).

  4. 4.

    & Behavior and energy policy. Science 327, 1204–1205 (2010).

  5. 5.

    , & A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. J. Consum. Res. 35, 472–482 (2008).

  6. 6.

    & Energy conservation “nudges” and environmentalist ideology: Evidence from a randomized residential electricity field experiment. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 11, 680–702 (2013).

  7. 7.

    & Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale Univ. Press, 2008).

  8. 8.

    , & The persistence of treatment effects with norm-based policy instruments: Evidence from a randomized environmental policy experiment. Am. Econ. Rev. Pap. Proc. 101, 318–322 (2011).

  9. 9.

    & Using non-pecuniary strategies to influence behaviour: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment. Rev. Econ. Stat. 95, 64–73 (2013).

  10. 10.

    Psychology and economics: Evidence from the field. J. Econ. Lit. 47, 315–372 (2009).

  11. 11.

    & Do defaults save lives? Science 302, 1338–1339 (2003).

  12. 12.

    , , & The importance of default options for retirement saving outcomes. Soc. Secur. Policy Change Environ. 176, 167–195 (2009).

  13. 13.

    & Design choices in privatized social-security systems: Learning from the Swedish experience. Am. Econ. Rev. 94, 424–428 (2004).

  14. 14.

    & The skeptical shopper: A metacognitive account for the effects of default options on choice. J. Consum. Res. 25, 529–539 (2004).

  15. 15.

    , , , & Regulation for conservatives: Behavioral economics and the case for ‘asymmetric paternalism’. Univ. Penn. Law Rev. 151, 1211–1254 (2003).

  16. 16.

    , & Defaults, framing, and privacy: Why opting in is not equal to opting out. Mark. Lett. 13, 5–15 (2002).

  17. 17.

    , & Choice without awareness: Ethical and policy implications of defaults. J. Public Policy Mark. 32, 159–172 (2013).

  18. 18.

    & The self-importance of moral identity. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 83, 1423–1440 (2002).

  19. 19.

    in Personality at the Cross-Roads: Current Issues in Interactional Psychology (eds Magnusson, D. & Endler, N. S.) 333–352 (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1977).

  20. 20.

    , & Amazon’s mechanical turk a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Psychol. Sci. 6, 3–5 (2011).

  21. 21.

    , & Running experiments on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Judgm. Decis. Mak. 5, 411–419 (2010).

  22. 22.

    in Preference Change: Approaches from Philosophy, Economics, and Psychology (eds Yanoff, T. G. & Hansson, S. O.) 207–220 (Springer, 2008).

  23. 23.

    & A model of reference-dependent preferences. Q. J. Econ. 121, 1133–1165 (2006).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the energy supplier for the collaboration and opportunity to embed the experiment in their webpage. Data and name are subject to non-disclosure. This research has benefited from research assistance by A. Fix and M. Schumann, who have been honour thesis students within this larger research project. We are grateful for comments from L. Goette, A. Ockenfels, M. Feinberg and R. Willer as well as the feedback of audiences at HEC Lausanne, London School of Economics, University of Geneva, University of Cologne, and Stanford University. Financial support by the German Research Foundation (DFG) is gratefully acknowledged by S.L. through the research-fellowship programme (LO 1826/1-1) and by both authors through the research unit programme (FOR1371: ‘Design and Behavior: Economic Engineering of Firms and Markets’).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. University of Cologne, Department of Economics, Albertus-Magnus-Platz D-50923 Köln, Germany

    • Felix Ebeling
  2. Stanford University, Department of Sociology, 450 Serra Mall, Building 120 Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Sebastian Lotz
  3. University of Lausanne, Department of Economics, UNIL-Dorigny, Internef CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Sebastian Lotz

Authors

  1. Search for Felix Ebeling in:

  2. Search for Sebastian Lotz in:

Contributions

F.E. and S.L. designed the research question; F.E. managed data collection in collaboration with our industry partner. F.E. prepared data analysis to discuss with S.L.; S.L. drafted the manuscript; F.E. provided feedback to manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sebastian Lotz.

Supplementary information