Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BECC 2009: Day 2

The second day of this year's Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference proved just as interesting as my experiences during the first day

I began the day by attending a talk by Barbara Farhar from the University of Colorado who presented some initial results from a qualitative study on Boulder residents and their views of the smart grid.  Of interest to me was the fact that she developed an energy literacy assessment instrument for the research, and that only (approximately) half of the respondents indicated that they would support demand response in their home (i.e. allow the utility to turn off their dryer or hot water heater).  While her sample size is small and not statistically generalizable, this is still an interesting datapoint.

I also saw a talk by Scott Pigg by the Energy Center of Wisconsin dealing with energy behaviors, and a very interesting talk by Hunt Allcott on ways to introduce randomization into energy/behavior research in order to obtain results with both internal and external validity.

The lunch speaker was Doug McKenzie-Mohr who gave a talk related to his book and website "Fostering Sustainable Behavior".   He views much of the current energy/behavior applications as "information intensive programs", in which the goal is to simply provide novel forms of information about energy and hope that behavioral change results.  He related a case study by Galler on an energy efficiency workshop that illustrates how this approach can fail in a big way.

In contrast, he advocates a more structured approach called "Community based social marketing" with a five step process that can be simplified as:  (1) Select behavior; (2) Uncover barriers and benefits; (3) Develop a strategy; (4) Pilot the strategy; and (5) Implement broadly and evaluate.   The key insight to me is (2), that without uncovering the barriers/benefits, it is hard to design a strategy (intervention) that is effective.

He illustrated the approach by describing a program in Canada to reduce auto idling time. An initial strategy was to erect signs requesting that drivers not idle their cars (for the environment or for the children).  It didn't work, since it did not address two barriers: (1) drivers think that keeping their car engine running is more efficient when the idle period is less than 4-5 minutes (the truth is 10 seconds) and (2) the increased number of car starts will burn out the starter (they won't).  So, the more effective strategy was to have a human talk to the car driver to disabuse them of these idling myths, along with a sticker they could put in their windshield to remind them (and others) not to idle.  A summary of the project provides more details.

After lunch I attended a talk by John Peterson from Oberlin College.  He spoke about his efforts to create "ecological feedback" systems for energy use in buildings, which he says involves the following key features: (1) near real-time; (2) socially comparative within monitored entities and among groups; (3) empathetically connects decision making to nature, community, and future generations; and (4) engaging, entertaining, etc.  He illustrated this with his work on the Campus Resource Monitoring System at Oberlin college, with the various dorm energy competitions they've done, and more recent work with the Great Lakes Protection Fund project.

The Campus Resource Monitoring System provides a nice user interface to energy information by the Lucid Design Group.   For a good article that overviews many of the current commercial energy dashboard offerings, I recommend the article "Visualizing Building Information" that appears in the Winter 2009 issue of Centerline, the newsletter of the Center for the Built Environment at UC Berkeley.

I then ran over to another session and caught the end of a talk by Jon Froehlich of the University of Washington, who described mechanisms developed by his research group to unobtrusively identify energy use at the appliance level by applying pattern/spectrum analysis techniques.   The basic idea is that turning appliances on and off produces "noise" in the power lines for a house which can be detected via some sensors and since different appliances have different signatures, you can disambiguate which appliance has been turned on/off and thus is responsible for the increment in energy consumption.  What's pretty cool is that they've gone beyond electrical use to apply this same general technique to water use and natural gas use.

After a few more talks which I won't summarize here, I attended a "Film Festival" session presented by Bill LeBlanc of E-Source.   He showed short clips (mostly ads, mostly humorous) regarding energy-related topics, but the best were a series of "PowerWalking" videos he has been doing for several years.   To get a taste, here's the PowerWalking 2007 video. We watched the world premier of the 2009 PowerWalking video, which he says will be on the E-Source website eventually.

The day (well, evening) concluded with a poster session.   There were lots of good ones, but one I found particularly relevant was by Sam Borgeson and Omar Khan on the Berkeley Campus Dashboard. (Here's a link to their 2008 poster session abstract.)  This is intended to be an open, web-based system for displaying energy data that has much in common philosophically with our WattDepot project.

On to Day 3 or back to Day 1.

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