ARB Research Seminar

This page updated July 29, 2013

Trends in Residential Energy Consumption and Potential Opportunities for Reduction

Photo of Magali A. Delmas

Magali A. Delmas

Photo of Matthew E. Kahn

Matthew E. Kahn

Photo of Alan Meier

Alan Meier

Photo of Reuben Deumling

Reuben Deumling

Magali A. Delmas, Ph.D. and Matthew E. Kahn, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, Alan Meier, Ph.D., Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Davis, and Reuben Deumling, Ph.D.

August 12, 2013
Cal EPA Headquarters, 1001 "I" Street, Sacramento, CA

Presentation: 1. 2.
Video: 1. 2.
Research Project: 1. 2. 3.

The posting of Magali Delmas' presentation is on hold pending publication in the scientific literature.


AB 32 requires California to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is the lead agency responsible for implementing AB 32 and developed the Climate Change Scoping Plan to provide a roadmap to achieve these reductions. The strategies for GHG reductions in the energy sector include improved energy efficiency and an increase in renewables energy generation. Improvements in energy efficiency are directed at codes and standards for buildings and appliances, utility programs for increased efficiency and programs to provide real-time energy information to help consumers conserve energy.

A suite of research projects sponsored by CARB aims to provide insight into how, when and why California residents consume energy. A nuanced understanding of how and when California resident consume energy compliments emissions control measures that are based on market forces and technology. The project results that will be presented at this workshop will examine the practices of low-energy users and explore how residents respond to real-time information about their energy use and the details of non-linear pricing. Results from these research projects will offer a basis for voluntary strategies and enable the State to help utilities design programs to lower residential energy use.

This joint seminar will offer an opportunity for the general public to interact in an open panel discussion with the investigators and provide feedback on our research program during a designated Q & A period.

I.   Behavioral responses to real-time individual energy usage information:   A large scale experiment

Magali A. Delmas

Electricity generation accounts for over 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by the United States. ENGAGE investigates how real time appliance level energy usage information provided through advanced metering technology can induce conservation behavior. ENGAGE leverages a large asset of advanced residential energy monitoring technology deployed in 120 apartments in Los Angeles. ENGAGE systems frame energy feedback to optimize motivations to reduce energy use by recognizing that the impact of electricity use on the environment, on health, or on the community are often 'invisible' to consumers. The project experiments with different message formats to identify best practices and optimal messaging. Specifically we compare the effectiveness of messages based on the environmental or health benefits associated with conservation to more conventional messages focused on the pecuniary savings associated with conservation. Our research advances our knowledge of effective non-price incentives for energy conservation.

II.  Using Information to Improve the Effectiveness of Nonlinear Pricing:   Evidence from a Field Experiment

Matthew E. Kahn

This paper reports on the results of two field experiments examining the impact of providing information on how a consumer's own electricity use translates into its monthly electricity bill on how that consumer responds to a nonlinear retail price schedule for electricity. Across the two utilities, over 2,000 consumers participated in a customized on-line interactive educational program that taught them how their monthly electricity bill was determined from nonlinear retail price schedule they face. Each consumer was also told where their typical consumption monthly places it on this nonlinear pricing schedule. Consumers were also shown how changes in their major electricity-consuming activities would affect their monthly bill under the nonlinear price schedule. Using data from before and after this intervention for consumers that took the educational program (our treatment) and a randomly selected set of control consumers, we estimate the overall treatment effect associated with our educational program as well as a treatment effect for consumers on each specific pricing tier on the nonlinear price schedule during the pre-intervention period. For both utilities, we find that the overall impact of our treatment is a reduction in the consumer's daily average consumption. In addition, our price tier-specific treatment effect results are that consumers that learn they face a higher marginal price for consuming electricity reduce their electricity consumption and consumers that learn they face the lowest marginal price increase their electricity consumption. These results emphasize that the need to provide timely and actionable information to consumers in order to maximize the effectiveness of nonlinear retail price schemes.

III.  Exploring Very Low Energy Consumption Rates in Urban California Households

Alan Meier and Reuben Deumling

California's 2050 climate goal calls for reducing carbon emissions by 80% below the 1990 baseline. Clearly, reduced energy consumption in all sectors will be part of the solution. A small percentage of California electricity customers already live at consumption levels consistent with 80% emissions reductions. These "low users"-consumers in the lowest decile-offer concrete examples of the technologies and lifestyles involved in achieving drastic emissions reductions. We investigated a sample of California households in the SMUD service territory to determine the extent to which income, house size, fuel substitution, and expert advice were associated with low usage. Starting with a detailed customer dataset, we administered surveys and conducted telephone interviews. Surprisingly, the low-users encompass a diverse cross section of customers who are demographically similar to the general population. Low electricity usage is not a consequence of poverty, living in small apartments, or fuel substitution, although the lowest users are more likely than the general population to live alone. They employ diverse strategies to reach very low consumption, but then often exceed expert recommendations. Six profiles capture the diversity of the low user population, reflecting lowest usage, diverse cooling strategies, energy upgrades, and high quality of life. Relying on existing technologies, the low user population reveals a host of low-energy lifestyles which demonstrate that California's climate policy goals are already achievable in the residential sector. The low user population can also inform decision-makers about successful policies and strategies to reduce residential energy use more widely.

Speaker Biography

Magali A. Delmas, Ph.D., is Professor of Management at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and the Anderson School of Management. Dr. Delmas is a UCLA Luskin Scholar and the Director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance. Dr. Delmas has written more than 50 articles, book chapters and case studies on business and the natural environment. Professor Delmas's current work includes the analysis of the effectiveness of firms' voluntary actions to mitigate climate change and the investigation of the barriers and incentives to the adoption of energy efficient solutions. She is particularly interested in assessing the effectiveness of eco-labeling and information strategies. Dr. Delmas is also engaged in refining current methodologies to measure and communicate firm's and products' environmental performance.

Matthew E. Kahn, Ph.D., is a Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment, the Department of Economics, the Department of Public Policy, the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and the UCLA School of Law. Dr. Kahn is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the IZA. Dr. Kahn is a member of the Air Resources Board's Research Screening Committee. Dr. Kahn is the author of Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment (Brookings Institution Press 2006) and the co-author of Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War (Princeton University Press 2008). Dr. Kahn is also the author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter World (Basic Books 2010). His research areas include; environmental, urban, energy and real estate economics. Professor Kahn holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. Before joining the UCLA faculty in January 2007, he taught at Columbia and the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Alan Meier, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a faculty researcher at the Energy Efficiency Center at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Meier spent four years at the International Energy Agency in Paris. Dr. Meier's research has focused on understanding how energy is transformed into useful services and the opportunities to use energy more efficiently. His research on standby power use in appliances-1% of global CO2 emissions-led him to propose an international plan to reduce standby in all devices to less than 1 watt. Other research topics include energy use of consumer electronics, energy test procedures for appliances, and international policies to promote energy efficiency. Dr. Meier was the author of the IEA publication Saving Electricity in a Hurry and has advised numerous governments on strategies to deal with short-term electricity problems. He earned his Ph.D. in Energy & Resources from UC Berkeley after completing degrees in chemistry and economics.

Reuben Deumling, Ph.D., is a social scientist studying the intersection of energy conservation behaviors, energy efficiency, and climate change policy. He earned his Ph.D. in Energy & Resources at UC Berkeley after completing degrees in environmental science and economics. Dr. Deumling has worked at the California Public Utilities Commission, The Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy, and Environment, and as a consultant to The Utility Reform Network (TURN). Dr. Deumling's research focuses on understanding which energy strategies hold promise for achieving medium to long term climate goals. Behavioral energy conservation, variation in usage observed across households, and the study of lowest energy households are three areas of Dr. Deumling's particular interest.

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