Article | Published:

Real-time feedback promotes energy conservation in the absence of volunteer selection bias and monetary incentives

Nature Energyvolume 4pages3541 (2019) | Download Citation

Abstract

Feedback interventions have proved to be effective at promoting energy conservation behaviour, and digital technologies have the potential to make interventions more powerful and scalable. In particular, real-time feedback on a specific, energy-intensive activity may induce considerable behaviour change and savings. Yet the majority of feedback studies that report large effects are conducted with opt-in samples of individuals who volunteer to participate. Here we show that real-time feedback on resource consumption during showering induces substantial energy conservation in an uninformed sample of guests at 6 hotels (265 rooms, N = 19,596 observations). The treatment effects are large (11.4% reduction in energy use), indicating that the real-time feedback induced substantial energy conservation among participants who did not opt in, and in a context where participants were not financially responsible for energy costs. We thus provide empirical evidence for real-time feedback as a scalable and cost-efficient policy instrument for fostering resource conservation among the broader public.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6984323.v1.

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Change history

  • 08 March 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Häcki and T. Bachmann from Swiss Mobiliar insurance for their great efforts in reaching out to hotels and managing the on-site study implementation and data collection. We would also like to express our gratitude to the management of the six Swiss hotels for the opportunity to run the study. Funding for this work was provided by the MTEC foundation of ETH Zurich (data analysis) as well as by Swiss Mobiliar insurance (hardware, deployment).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Verena Tiefenbeck
    • , Anselma Wörner
    •  & Elgar Fleisch
  2. University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany

    • Verena Tiefenbeck
  3. University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany

    • Samuel Schöb
    •  & Thorsten Staake
  4. University of St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland

    • Elgar Fleisch

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Contributions

V.T. and T.S. designed the study. S.S. wrote the software of the study devices and enabled the technical side of the data collection. V.T. oversaw the study implementation. A.W. and V.T. analysed the data. V.T. and A.W. drafted the manuscript; T.S. and E.F. edited the manuscript. V.T., T.S. and E.F. secured funding for the study.

Competing interests

V.T., A.W. and E.F. declare no competing financial interests. T.S. and S.S. are co-founders of and hold shares in Amphiro AG, the SME that manufactures the smart shower meters. T.S. and S.S. were not involved in the data analysis, hotel selection or room assignment.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Verena Tiefenbeck.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0282-1