A Needs-Based Approach towards Fostering Long-term Engagement with Energy Feedback among Local Residents

Abstract: In order to reach the current climate goals, energy consumption needs to decrease in all sectors, including households, which produce 20% of the European emissions. However, it is difficult to increase residents’ engagement in their household electricity consumption as it is an ‘invisible’ form of energy, the monetary incentives are often too small and environmental incentives are not very effective. Building on the idea that an engagement mechanism should be based on user needs, and recent research showing that social influence can be an effective way to affect consumption behaviour, this thesis examines the potential of a neighbourhood-based digital local social network providing feedback on household electricity consumption as an engagement solution. By helping neighbours to know each other better, such a network could meet the basic human need of belonging to a group, while also taking advantage of the social influence between neighbours to increase the effectiveness of the energy feedback provided.This thesis sought to: 1) Identify needs of residents that could be served by a local social network and explore whether such a network could provide a beneficial context for energy feedback; 2) identify and evaluate a set of design principles for energy feedback and use them to propose a prototype feedback design suitable for use in a local social network; and 3) design and implement a baseline study for measuring changes in aspects of social and environmental sustainability in a neighbourhood that introduction of a local social network can achieve, such as social cohesion, trust, safety, and energy attitudes and behaviour.In order to achieve these objectives, the Research Through Design methodology was used. This resulted in mixed methods research using quantitative (household survey) and qualitative (focus group interviews, stakeholder consultation workshop) methods. The research was conducted in two eco-districts in Stockholm, Sweden: Hammarby Sjöstad and Stockholm Royal Seaport.Regarding the first objective, results from the household survey indicated a need for increased interaction between neighbours in Stockholm Royal Seaport, while the focus group discussions revealed local communication needs that a local social network could meet. However, the possibility to use social influence between neighbours in increasing the intention to save energy was shown to be rather weak, possibly because of the current low level of connection between neighbours. Regarding the second objective, a set of design principles was identified using a literature study. They were used to create a design prototype of energy feedback that was presented to potential end-users in a stakeholder consultation workshop and then refined using suggestions given in the workshop. The workshop indicated support for many of the design principles as they were indirectly mentioned in the discussions. The design principle of fair feedback was further explored, suggesting use of typical household consumption as part of a fair comparison metric and when setting reduction goals.Regarding the third objective, an evaluation method with baseline survey and follow-up surveys was suggested. The household survey served as a baseline for measuring social and environmental sustainability aspects in a neighbourhood. Further research is needed on the effectiveness of a local social network as an engagement mechanism for energy feedback.