The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption (Sarah Darby)

24 Feb

In most houses energy use is invisible to the user. Most people only have a vague idea of the amount of energy they are using at different times of the day and what appliances use the most energy. Feedback allows energy usage to become more visible and easier to understand and control. Ames et al. (Healthy Cities Ambient Displays) “hypothesize that information will empower residents to improve city health by…..making then feel like their actions are visible”. Since the 1970s it has been established that feedback has measurable effects and it was discovered that feedback can be used as a learning tool allowing users to teach themselves through experimentation.

Feedback can contribute to the knowledge about the use of energy. From this knowledge people act (change their behaviour) and immediately gain an understanding of what has happened and see the effects of the change through the feedback. Wilhit and Ling found with regard to their project that: Increased feedback – increase in awareness or knowledge – changes in energy-use – decrease in energy consumption. Savings from direct feedback can range from 5-15% (The Effects of Feedback on Energy Consumption).

The persistence of savings will then depend on whether the feedback will support the change of behaviour and the development of new habits over a long period of time. This is where a well thought out energy monitoring device is needed. A new behaviour formed over a three-month period or longer is likely to persist, once continued feedback is maintained. This is why I feel and ambient information system is ideal for feedback on energy consumption. Continuous feedback can be provided  through an easily accessible display and because of the properties of an ambient information system it has the possibility to change behaviours (refer to Ambient Display and Persuasive Computing) and provide an aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable and convenient point of access to the information over a long period of time. (The Effects of Feedback on Energy Consumption).

We can’t be using that much…It’s just the two of us in this two-bed flat. I am out all day …and we are on income support. I just don’t know how the bills are so high… I think there is something wrong with them. – Londoner in her 30s, whilst in broad daylight lights were on in most rooms, a TV and radio were playing in an unoccupied bedroom, and all appliances in the sitting room were on standby (Dobbyn and Thomas 2005, p26) (The Effects of Feedback on Energy Consumption). Direct feedback such as an ambient information system can solve this problem. The user will be aware of the energy usage in the home at any given time and can immediately make changes rather than have to try to look back at the end of the month when the bills arrive.


The fact that energy consumption is invisible to users is a prime cause of energy wastage and feedback on consumption is vital for energy savings. User-friendly displays are needed as part of any new meter specification. Monitors would be most useful if they showed instantaneous usage and also feedback is of value as a learning tool.


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