Five countries to become the field of behavioural experiments to encourage energy efficiency habits

Achieving the full energy transition potential calls for a paradigm shift, and many solutions are investigated to involve as much people as possible and support them reducing their energy consumption. This September 2020, 10 partners gathered online to kick-off NUDGE, a new project funded by the Horizon 2020 European programme. Their goal? To study, test and evaluate different behavioural interventions for energy efficiency in Greece, Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Croatia, paving the way for new policies and human behaviour.

The EU has ambitious targets for increasing energy efficiency and mitigating climate change, aiming that there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. To achieve this and other targets, much effort and investment are focused on digital infrastructure (e.g., smart meters) that enables energy consumers to monitor and manage their energy usage more actively and efficiently.

Reducing energy consumption demands behavioural changes, from the way we use our heating and electric appliances, to the way we cater for (structural) energy inefficiencies of our houses. Moving away from financial incentives, recent studies and social engagement practices have identified ways to influence behaviour through nudging interventions that, without limiting people’s options, can support their behavioural choices in a predictable manner.

Even though nudging techniques have been considered in the energy sector, our understanding of their potential application is still limited. And this is where NUDGE will play a crucial role. NUDGE is set up to analyse people’s behaviour, and to design and test nudging interventions in five EU Member States (Greece, Belgium, Germany, Portugal and Croatia) in households, energy communities, and schools, and various socio-economic factors. All interventions are rooted in fundamental principles of behavioural science, and since the field of application is energy efficiency, the comfort of participants is only set to increase!

In this Research & Innovation Horizon2020 project, field experiments are coupled with randomized control trials to assess the impact and effectiveness of the interventions, and employ a mix of approaches, including qualitative and quantitative research method. Most of the research and experimentation is also focused on the design of policies and the formulation of recommendations specific to each country.

For instance, interventions include an interdisciplinary project-based education on home energy consumption for children in Belgium, where children will be educated on and understand the impact of everyday life decisions on home energy consumption, with the support of intergenerational learning among family members and a great replication potential by transferring lessons learned to parents, family and friends. Electricity smart-meters will be installed at the children households and schools, with a dashboard to visualize the collected consumption data. The social comparison with the households of classmates will be one of the nudging interventions.