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Large-Scale Energy Savings


Smart meters and related technologies hold the promise that energy information will change energy use. However, poorly designed interfaces can jeopardize billion-dollar infrastructure investments, whether because sensor information is complex and dull, incentives are inappropriate, interfaces are not designed to modify behavior, or social context is ignored. These problems all involve the intersection of human behavior and technology.


In 2010, Stanford won a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a transformative technology system that leverages pervasive sensor and communication technologies to achieve large-scale energy savings. 


The team focused on reducing people's energy consumption and increasing energy literacy by designing interventions to change behavior. The initiative includes four parts:

  1. A software platform that enables behavioral programs to be implemented at scale
  2. Behavioral interventions to reduce and shift energy use
  3. Data modeling that incorporates behavior into prescriptive engineering and economic analyses
  4. An extensible energy communication network to enable future innovation


The team developed three human-centered, online, and residential energy reduction interfaces based on three motivational frames:

  • Cognitive feedback: A power bar displays real-time home energy data to allow the user to form a more tangible understanding of his or her energy usage
  • Affect-based feedback: Kidogo, an app that leverages emotions to help users correlate electricity savings with saved money and donations
  • Social: Splitbar, an interface that leverages a user's competitive spirit in social, energy-savings contests, motivating a sense of community and energy-awareness.

These frames apply affective, cognitive, and social engagement in energy reduction. The multi-faceted approach originated from qualitative interviews with homeowners, who suggested that they did not understand the drivers of electricity consumption, even though their motivations were to reduce it.

All three interfaces are currently being developed for the Facebook platform. They began as Google gadgets, but have been ported over to Facebook, where the user base is larger and more varied.