A new report (Jan. 2010) by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory entitled “The Smart Grid: An Estimation of the Energy and CO2 Benefits,” estimates the energy and C02 benefits of smart grids (but not the costs).
Smart grid effectiveness relies in part on changing human behavior. To this end, the report contains a useful summary of over 30 studies examining the impact of energy information on decisions regarding energy use, concluding that they provide “convincing evidence that consumers will change their energy consumption behavior in response to feedback, and that the conditions surrounding feedback, such as frequency and specificity, are influential variables.”
However, the authors point out the many gaps in our current understanding of underlying causal mechanisms. Topics in bold have been examined by IS researchers in other contexts and [my comments are in brackets]:
The role of habit, behavior change, and cognitive control.
Consumer mental models of energy–how do people think about energy? [and how do energy visualizations and messaging from others via social media affect mental models]
Increase the time granularity of data to better understand energy usage patterns across the 24-hour period, weekly and weekend differences, and variations within time periods of the seasons.
Develop more specific guidelines for information and outreach programs [how to reach Gen Y? think facebook, twitter, etc.]
Develop design guidelines for feedback systems (bills, meters, etc.) directly linked to social/cognitive/human factors. [see how this happens with e-services in an analogous situation from healthcare here].
Better define the basis for behavior change in energy consuming activities–what is the reward system? What is the role of negative reinforcement? [See this video for one vision of the future…]
Preference and rating studies using survey methods to understand consumer perceptions of risks and benefits associated with various change scenarios.
How can social or behavioral constraints be built into the energy consumption system that will “nudge” people to make desirable energy choices?
Longitudinal assessments of persistence across different types of feedback.
Many of these issues have analogs for business, such as the difference between creating a culture of energy conservation using social media (see Intel)versus mandating it in a top-down fashion.