IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Fall 2014 - 43

T

he traditional supplyside model of energy
generation and use is
changing rapidly. Two
major, inter-dependent
problems that electric power grids
currently face are sustainability in
the long run and dealing with the
peaks and lows of demand in the
short term.
The growing demand for electrical energy cannot be satisfied
by the diminishing non-renewable
resources which currently represent the major source of energy.
Moreover, coal, gas, oil and biomass contribute to the greenhouse
effect by increasing the amount of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,
which has disastrous effects on
the climate. The catastrophe at the
Fukushima nuclear power plant
in Japan, following the tsunami in
2011, has raised safety concerns and
has in many cases slowed down, or
reversed (for example in Germany),
the development of nuclear power
plants. Given that the non-renewable
resources are so sparse, the only
solution is to curtail the demand for
such resources. The question then
is how to reduce energy use by the
end users, especially energy generated from non-renewables? An even
more challenging question is how to
turn energy consumers into efficient
prosumers - individuals who produce "green" energy for their own
use and sell excess energy back to
the grid?
The demand for energy is very
unevenly spread over the day.
However, most industrial facilities produce equal amounts of
energy throughout the day. The
excess energy produced during low
demand hours represents an almost
equal problem for power plants as
shortages of energy during peak
demand. Green energy exacerbates
this problem because the peaks of
production of green energy (e.g.,
strong sunlight, strong winds) may
occur at different times to the peaks
of the demand. The challenge is
then to change the temporal pattern

of energy use by the end users, so
that its peak coincides with the
peak of energy supply.
The capacity to deal with both
problems depends on new technological solutions, such as more energy
efficient devices, as well as on changing the pattern of energy use by the
users, for example by better insulating
homes, buying more energy efficient
appliances and minimizing the use of
high energy consuming devices.
However, humans and devices
are strongly interdependent. In fact,
they create together a techno-social
system, the dynamics and effectiveness of which is highly dependent
on psychological mechanisms of the
users and on mutually agreed upon
rules that allow for the synchronization of individuals that enable
collective action. The capacity for
synchronization and effective utilization of energy resources depends
on the development of collective
awareness which, in turn, allows the
group to react to changing situations
and to new configurations of needs
[1]. In other words, the benefits of
new technologies strongly depend
on psychological and social factors.
In this article, we concentrate
on the psychological and social
aspects of technical innovations in
the area of energy use, especially
those related to smart meters. We
will consider both the psychological
aspects at the individual level and
the effects of the social context on
individual behavior. Next, we will
consider energy as a common pool
resource. Here we will try to bring
together the principles of sustainable institutions proposed by Nobel
Laureate Elinor Ostrom, with the
rules of social psychology and some
relevant technological considerations. From this perspective we
will also discuss the concrete proposal "UseGreenEnergy.Today" for
changing patterns of energy use.

How to Reduce Household
Energy Usage?
Reducing household energy usage is
potentially one of the most important

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

|

FALL 2014

steps towards more sustainable
energy management. Note that the
energy footprint of a household is
generated by a variety of usages.
These include heating, transportation, etc. However in this article
we concentrate only on electricity
usage. It has long been recognized
that purely economic factors are not
sufficient to encourage energy saving
behavior in households. A variety of
psychological and social variables,
together with technology development and adoption, are responsible
for energy-related choices.
From the perspective of economy, price represents the crucial
instrument for regulating demand.
However, the use of energy is only
weakly related to its price - the
increase in price has to be substantial to be noticed by users and taken
into account by changing the pattern
of energy use. One of the reasons
for this is that traditionally, feedback
concerning the use of energy - in
the form of the electricity bill - is
received once a month and therefore the immediate effects of the
actions of the user on the amount
of energy consumed are not seen
directly. Moreover, effective energy
savings, which are usually relatively
small, often require a large initial
investment, such as improving the
thermal insulation of the house. The
savings are made after a long time,
often several years. Since individuals tend to discount gains in the distant future, the decision to invest in a
better energy option for purely economic reasons is unlikely.
Even when they are effective,
financial incentives usually do not
leave a lasting mark on energy saving behavior [2]. In large part this is
due to the fact that they constitute
an external motivation that may
replace any internal one - moral
or normative - that might have
formed [3]-[4].
Other
motivations,
however, may provide more effective
mechanisms for energy savings.
Moral norms have proven to be a
strong driver of pro-environmental
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