In an effort to meet the ambitious EU targets for increased energy efficiency and cope with the challenge of climate change, public authorities, Distributed System Operators (DSOs) and other stakeholders are actively investing towards improving energy efficiency. Much of this investment concerns digital infrastructure (e.g., smart meters) that enables energy consumers to monitor and manage their energy usage more actively and efficiently.
However, the holy grail of “energy efficiency” demands drastic changes in the overall energy-related behaviour of consumers, from the way they use their heating and electric appliances, up to the way they cater for (structural) energy inefficiencies of their 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.
NUDGE is set up to analyse people’s behaviour, and design and test nudging interventions in five EU Member States in households, energy communities and schools. 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 NUDGE, a broad range of methodologies and tools are used: field experiments and surveys to assess the impact of an intervention are coupled with randomized control trials to assess the effectiveness of the interventions. A mix of approaches are employed, including qualitative and quantitative research methods, stakeholder consultation as well as automated and manual collection of pilot data and translation into meaningful KPIs. Most of the research and experimentation is also focused on the design of policies and the formulation of recommendations specific to each country. Pilots findings will be compared within and across pilots.
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.
Work steps and innovative approach
ABehavioural Science inspired methodology
BTesting and evaluation of designed interventions through real trials
CDerivation of policy recommendations and their exploitation
NUDGE will be based on the application of Behavioural Science principles to develop a mixed approach for analyzing consumer profiles, designing tailored Energy Efficiency interventions and evaluating their behaviour change potential. Once the behavioural science inspired framework is established, the pilot work will start by developing the trial setups, towards testing and evaluating the designed interventions through trials engaging consumers across multiple energy scenarios, under real-life conditions.
Finally, NUDGE will try to efficiently combine the inputs of all preceding work provide a consolidated view of the pilots’ outcomes and translate them into recommendations towards consulting policymakers and relevant stakeholders, which will be efficiently exploited along with other project outcomes, disseminated and communicated.
Novel protocol for assessing behavioural interventions
Most studies assessing the effectiveness of nudging techniques for energy-efficient behaviour are single case studies regarding a specific nudging technique. Replicating the same research protocol among five pilot sites will give us a more ecologically valid view on the effectiveness of nudging techniques for energy efficient behaviour using digital user interfaces. This will be of added value for researchers, policy makers and developers of energy monitoring and management tools wanting to optimize or validate nudging interventions they have developed.
Predictive models for consumer responses to interventions
Another area where NUDGE would like to explore with fresh view is the modelling of consumer responses to behavioural interventions. The models try to capture the outcome of the process, in this case whether a user responds or not and to what extent to a given intervention. In NUDGE, we expect to make important contributions to the understanding of consumer responses to behavioural interventions by attempting to leverage the descriptive power of these models to the characterization of energy consumers.
Behavioural interventions have already been considered in the energy sector as a means to more energy-friendly behaviour from end-users. However, the potential of nudging techniques for energy efficiency has not yet been extensively investigated, mainly because the employed behaviour interventions: •are not tailored to the specific psychological or contextual features of individual consumers •tend to be behaviourally-informed rather than behaviourally-tested through real trials •do not follow a solid methodology in extracting statistically-significant results out of trials •are not linked with policymaking actions
The NUDGE consortium has identified the aforementioned application gap as an opportunity that defines the main project aim: NUDGE aspires to systematically assess and fully unleash the potential of behavioural interventions towards achieving higher energy efficiency, paving the way to the generalized use of such interventions as a worthy addition to the policy-making toolbox. More specifically, NUDGE key objectives are:
- Tailor the design of behavioural interventions to individual psychological and contextual variables, by leveraging digital platforms and data analytics. Humans neither think nor take decisions in the same way. They do not share identical attitudes, expectations, goals and preferences, either. Hence, it is meaningful to account for this differentiation also in the way they are addressed by behavioural interventions. The goal of NUDGE is to tailor the interventions, behavioural or not, to users and seek to identify those that could have the highest behaviour-changing impact on them.
- Execute extensive field trials that address multiple instances of consumer behaviour, implementing different mixes of behaviour-based and traditional interventions. NUDGE devotes significant effort on testing the designed interventions in real conditions, through different field trials.
- Develop a systematic research protocol to continuously measure the impact of the implemented behavioural interventions. An instrument to assess the impact of behavioural change interventions across pilot sites, consisting of a) a general cross-pilot evaluation, supplemented by b) a specific evaluation applicable to each specific pilot site, sensitive to local contextual factors.
- Consolidate the findings of pilots into recommendations towards policymakers and relevant stakeholders. The scope of the term policies here is deliberately broader and applicable in main domains, beyond the usual public policy-making domain, e.g., a marketing policy by an NGO targeting the energy consumers, the pricing or communication policy of a DSO towards its customers, or the user interface design policies.
Technologies and tools
The mediation platforms for carrying out interventions are mobile apps, digital interface, energy metering equipment, sensors, and user interfaces, they will enable the automated collection and monitoring of pilot data and the calculation of the relevant KPIs.
NUDGE heavily reuses infrastructures and tools that are available from other research activities for its pilot activities, to ease the implementation work and enable the five pilots (incremental enhancements related to behavioural interventions rather than build from scratch).
The project foresees to distribute training material to enable users to interact with the newly introduced systems (metering platforms, smartphone applications, actuation controllers, etc.). Metering platforms (energy, IEQ) installation will take place as the first step to provide for evaluation in the pre-pilot phase, acting as a benchmark.
Software for consumer characterization and profiling
Smartphone app letting user interact with legacy gas-based heating
Smartphone app for optimizing the charging of EVs with self-produced PV power
Smartphone app for visualizing individual and aggregate energy consumption/ production data
Smartphone app for visualizing individual and aggregate energy consumption and indoor IEQ data
Dashboard for visualizing individual and aggregate energy consumption
Proprietary heating controller and IoT monitoring platform for centralized gas demand monitoring and management
The NUDGE consortium consists of a multidisciplinary team of 10 partners with different backgrounds and expertise, i.e. 4 R&D institutions, 2 policy experts, 1 energy company, 2 SMEs, 1 consumer association, 1 energy cooperative and 1 education expert, striking a good balance between expertise in the design of behavioural interventions and capacity to implement and operationalize these interventions.