“Everyone has a peer in the low user tier”: the diversity of low residential energy users
- 117 Downloads
Low residential energy use is typically associated with undesirable characteristics, such as poverty, thermal discomfort, or small dwelling size. The association of low energy use with deprivation has been an obstacle to promoting more aggressive goals for reduction of residential use. However, there is little research on the composition of the low user population. We investigated the demographics, behavior, and satisfaction of the lowest 10% of electricity consumers in Sacramento, CA, to see what attributes best correlated with low use. California, like many other regions, has GHG emissions goals requiring drastic reductions in residential consumption. Households in Sacramento’s lowest decile of electricity consumption already live at electricity consumption levels consistent with the goals for 2050. Our investigation of 700 of these households found that diversity of low users with regard to age, income, education, appliance ownership, and dwelling characteristics is similar to that of the general population. Low-use households tend to be smaller, but not enough to explain the entirety of low usage. Surveys and interviews revealed that those in the lowest 10% typically pursued low consumption deliberately and enthusiastically and were aware of their status as low users. Conversations about energy conserving strategies were embedded in their social lives. They employed diverse and creative strategies to maintain thermal comfort without excess energy use, often exceeding expert recommendations. Finally, the distribution of self-reported quality of life was no different from that of the general population living at much higher consumption levels. Overall, the key determinants of low use were a positive engagement with improvisation and experimentation, and the salience of energy in personal or social life. The population of low users should be treated as a valuable source of peer advice and lifestyle modeling.
KeywordsHousehold energy consumption Residential energy demand Energy behavior Energy poverty Peer communication
The authors thank the California Air Resources Board for their support.
The research for this study was funded by California Air Resources Board Contract # 09–326.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Boardman, B. (1991). Fuel poverty: from cold homes to affordable warmth. Pinter Pub Limited, Belhaven Press, London.Google Scholar
- California. (2006). Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32).Google Scholar
- California. (2016). 2030 target scoping plan concept paper. https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/scopingplan/document/2030_sp_concept_paper2016.pdf. Accessed 17 July 2018.
- California Air Resources Board. (2008). Climate change scoping plan: A framework for change. http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/scopingplan/scopingplan.htm. Accessed 17 July 2018.
- California Air Resources Board. (2017). ‘California Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 2000 to 2015 – Trends of Emissions and Other Indicators’. http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/pubs/reports/2000_2015/ghg_inventory_trends_00-15.pdf. Accessed 17 July 2018.
- Cialdini, Robert. (1984). Influence: the psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins Business.Google Scholar
- Cialdini, Robert. (2016). Pre-suasion : a revolutionary way to influence and persuade. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
- Deumling, R., Meier, A., & Cook, J. (2013). Identifying determinants of very low energy consumption rates observed in some California households. In Sacramento: California air resources board. https://www.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/past/09-326.pdf.Google Scholar
- Diamond, R. (1984). ‘Energy and housing for the elderly’. In B. Morrison & W. Kempton (Eds.). Families and energy: coping with uncertainty (pp. 331–345). Proceedings of the Conference on Families and Energy, Michigan State University.Google Scholar
- Dougherty, A., Dwelley, A., Henschel, R., and Hastings, R. (2011). ‘Moving beyond econometrics to examine the behavioral changes behind impacts’. IEPEC Conference Paper.Google Scholar
- Energy & Environmental Economics. (2009). ‘Meeting California’s Long-Term Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals’. https://www.ethree.com/public_projects/greenhouse_gas_reduction.php.
- European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies, Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE). 2016. “Energy efficiency for low-income households.”Google Scholar
- Gainesville Green. (n.d.). http://gainesville-green.com/. Accessed 17 July 2018.
- Hackett, B. 1980. "Energy conservation and rural alternative lifestyles”. Social Problems 28(2), 165–178.Google Scholar
- Hernandez, D. (2013). Energy insecurity: a framework for understanding energy, the built environment and health among vulnerable populations in the context of climate change. American Journal of Public Health., 104(3).Google Scholar
- Johnson, W. A., Stoltzfus, V., Craumer, D. (1977). “Energy conservation in Amish agriculture : Amish farmers can cut energy use without reducing yields, but this cannot be achieved everywhere.” Science 198(4315), 373–378.Google Scholar
- Kempton, W. & Krabacher, S. (1986). ‘Thermostat management: intensive interviewing used to interpret instrumentation data,’ pp. 245–262. In W.Kempton and M. Neiman (editors), Energy Efficiency: Perspectives on Individual Behavior. Washington, DC: ACEEE Press.Google Scholar
- Lutzenhiser, L. (2002). ‘An exploratory analysis of residential electricity conservation survey and billing data: Southern California Edison, summer 2001’ Sacramento, CA: California Energy Commission, report 400-02-006F.Google Scholar
- Lutzenhiser, L., & Gossard, M. (2000). ‘Lifestyle, status and energy consumption’. Proceedings, ACEEE. Washington, DC: ACEEE Press, 8, 207–222.Google Scholar
- McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.Google Scholar
- Meier, Alan K. (2010). ‘Editorial: targeting the high users’ Home Energy Magazine May/June 2010. http://www.homeenergy.org/show/article/magazine/66/page/5/id/705
- Neiman, M. (1989). ‘Government directed change of everyday life and coproduction: the case of home energy use’ The Western Political Quarterly, 42(3):365–389. September.Google Scholar
- Schipper, L., Bartlett, S., Hawk, D., & Vine, E. (1989). ‘Linking lifestyles and energy use: A matter of time’. Annual Review of Energy, 14, 273–320.Google Scholar
- Schwarzenegger, A. (2005). Executive Order S-03-05 http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=1861
- Seattle City Light. (2010). Residential customer characteristics survey. February.Google Scholar
- Shove, E. (2003). Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience: The social organization of normality. Oxford: Berg Publishers.Google Scholar
- Socolow, R. H. (1978). The rwin rivers program on energy conservation in housing: Highlights and conclusions. In Saving energy in the home: Princeton’s experiments at Twin Rivers. Cambridge: Ballinger.Google Scholar