Behavioral and Technical Approaches to Saving Energy

Sometimes it’s of value to think of things from a different angle.  The behavioral and technical approaches to saving energy provide two very different ways to accomplish the goal of using less electricity, gas, and water.  Let’s look at each of these approaches.

  1. The technical approach – this is reducing energy use with higher efficiency equipment, and automating the use of energy by employing devices like computers, occupancy sensors, timers, and photocells. The technical approach generally yields the highest percent increase in savings, and when done right, it doesn’t inconvenience occupants or require their participation. Technical approaches can yield a wide range of savings from 1% to 70% or more. Return on investment should be used to prioritize projects.
  2. The behavioral approach – this is the new frontier in energy savings. As the name implies, a change in people’s awareness and actions characterize the behavioral approach. The simplest example is turning off the lights when leaving a room. Another example is using a power strip to turn off many pieces of equipment when not in use, such as equipment in an entertainment center.  Programs based on behavioral approaches to saving energy generally yield around 5% savings.

Behavioral approaches to energy savings are gaining momentum. Universities are holding competitions between residence halls to see who can save the most in a specified time period. Office buildings are holding competitions between floors or departments. These activities can be fun, challenging and educational. Aggressive marketing and occupant participation is the key to success. For this reason, I often call this the marketing approach to saving energy.

From a financial standpoint, it makes the most sense to begin saving energy using the technical approach since this is where the greatest percentage of savings will come from.  Then, integrating the behavioral approach over time can provide an incremental boost in savings.  Changing the habits of people is a slow process that takes deliberate and consistent effort over time.

Savings from behavioral changes are most likely to occur if the process is made fun and rewarding.  Rewarding the family to a special meal out, or giving the kids some money towards something they want to buy could be a way to encourage behavioral changes that result in lower monthly electric, gas and water bills.  Think about what might work in your home, or some experiences you’ve had, and share with the community in comments below.

For a more detailed discussion of the concepts behind saving with behavioral change, or Energy Awareness, read this article.