Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BECC 2009: Day 1

This week I am attending the 2009 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference in Washington, D.C.  This is the third year of the conference, and the first time I've attended it.   The conference has grown from around 250 people the first year to around 700 this year, and it shows:  some of the tracks yesterday were so popular that you had to stand outside the room and listen. 

Due to travel arrangements, I missed most of the first set of concurrent sessions, and so the first talk that I attended in its entirety was the lunch speaker: US Representative Brian Baird, who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.  He is a former clinical psychologist and so is very open to the idea that behavior is an important issue when thinking about energy use and climate change. (This seems like a no brainer, though the political right is accusing him of mind control.) He had some interesting, low cost ideas on how to improve energy efficiency, such as to require that MLS listings of houses for sale should state the energy usage of the house (electricity and gas) over the past year.  This would incentivize home owners to improve the energy efficiency of their home (and use energy wisely), as it would make their house more attractive on the market, and enable home buyers to choose between two houses by picking the one with lower potential energy usage (all other things being equal.)

The afternoon had six concurrent sessions, of which two (Behavior Research and Policy Agenda; Technology Design) were of interest to me.  This appears to be a happy problem that I will struggle with for the remainder of the conference: there are always multiple places I want to be at once.  I chose the first session and listened to Ed Vine from the California Institute for Energy and the Environment give a review of nine papers sponsored by his organization for the California Public Utilities Commission.  They covered a lot of ground, from experimental design to process issues to market segmentation to behavioral issues.  You can get links to these and other related papers here.

The day concluded with a panel session on Smart Grid, with Matthew Trevithick from Venrock (a VC firm), Gregory Abowd from Georgia Tech, Omar Khan from Google's PowerMeter program,  and Carrie Armel from Stanford's Precourt Energy Efficiency Center.  (The Precourt Center website has an excellent section devoted to behavior with an 800+ citation database.)

Each panelist gave a very short presentation giving their perspective on smart grid and behavior, followed by lots of Q&A with the audience.  One of the many interested issues touched upon was an informal "stages of use" observed by the Google Powermeter team: users begin by learning about the system, then they engage with it to change their use, then they finally move into a maintenance phase.  The learning/engagement phases appear to last only a week or two, where users are actively manipulating the system and discovering issues with their usage and making concrete changes.  During this phase, they want to be able to drill down, do experiments, and so forth.  In the maintenance phase, they basically only want the system to tell them if something has changed in their energy usage.

On to Day Two or Day Three.

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