Saving Energy While Others Pay The Bill

Header image: Saving Energy While Others Pay The Bill

The goal of this project is to stimulate energy conservation in situations where people don’t pay for their energy bill. In a series of field experiments, we will, therefore, study the potentially positive effects of non-financial incentives and technological innovations on energy saving behavior. In order to do so, we have established a living lab at several locations of The Student Hotel (two in Amsterdam), where electricity and water meters have been installed (by Bectro Installatietechniek) in over 200 rooms. Within this setting, we can relate our objective measurements to our interventions and questionnaires, which we present to the participants during our field experiments.

The challenge

Many energy conservation measures focus on financial incentives to stimulate behavior change (saving energy equals saving money). Frequently, however, such financial incentives are irrelevant or difficult to implement. Consider for instance energy use at work (where the employer pays the bill), in hotels (where energy is included in the room price) and in rental homes with all-inclusive energy, gas and water use (like student housing). Such settings require a different approach. In order to successfully stimulate energy conservation in these situations, more knowledge is needed of non-financial incentives, such as social incentives and feedback, that can have a positive effect on energy saving behavior.

Another way to stimulate energy conservation, is through the use of technological innovations. To reach optimal energy savings with the use of technologies, it is important to know how people use these technologies. We are therefore also interested in the way people use and experience these technological innovations and the effect technology has on energy behavior.

What is being researched?

This research project focuses specifically on two types of situations in which users do not pay the energy bill: students in all-inclusive housing and hotel guests. In different field experiments we will test non-financial ways of promoting energy conservation. In these experiments, students that stay in The Student Hotel for a semester, as well as ‘regular’ hotel guests, will undergo various interventions. Thanks to the extensive measurement equipment delivered and installed by Bectro Installatietechniek, we are able to monitor the exact time and amount of energy used for each participant. Moreover, we can measure energy consumption over the course of long periods of time (5-10 months), and link this to extensive questionnaires that participants are asked to complete, before and after the experiments. This can generate improved insights on:

  • the effects of social incentives like public praise, commitment, gift-giving and competition;
  • the effects of improved knowledge about environmental issues and specific energy saving behaviors;
  • the effects of the environmental attitude of social groups;
  • the effect of technological interventions on energy conservation.
What makes this project unique?

This project offers the unique opportunity to assess the effectiveness of our experimental interventions in terms of participant’s individual energy and water use. Moreover, both the long-term and the short-term effectiveness of our interventions can be assessed with students who stay in the hotel for six to twelve months and hotel guests. Furthermore, as students are obliged to move out after one year, and hotel guests only stay for a short period of time, we have a constant flow of new participants, who have no prior knowledge of previous research.

To our knowledge, there is no such ‘hotel as a social research lab’ anywhere else in the world. As a result, this setting has high scientific potential and can lead to new theoretical insights.

What will be the practical value of this research?

The research is directly relevant for professional practice. The research project should result in a practical guide for organizations like hotels, schools, companies, and care homes, that want to stimulate energy conservation in situations where financial incentives may not work. The installation sector can use insights gained from these studies to improve the design of new systems.

Lastly, this project offers many opportunities to disseminate information about energy conservation to a wider audience: twice a year workshops will be organized for participants, to make them familiar with the goals, progress and results of studies. The results will also be presented in the ‘Class of 2020’ magazine, during conferences, in journals, on the project website, and more.

Project duration: May 2014 – no end date

Partners: Wageningen University, The Student Hotel, Bectro Installatietechniek, Alliander

Related information:

Project website:

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