For big energy savings: Behavior first, high-tech second

One of my favorite green blogs, Environmental Lovins, from the Rocky Mountain Institute, has a thought-provoking post that makes the point that even in the greenest homes — bristling with solar panels, and the best insulation — energy consumption habits can vary by a factor of 3 or 4. What’s missing even in green homes, not to mention typical energy-sucking US homes, are clearer signals about the cost and wastage of energy.

Rather than lecturing people about their wasteful behavior, what if we gave them information about the consequences of their actions?

Enter the feedback meter. It’s a little device that links up to your home’s inverter and gives a real-time readout of energy use. A decent, low-end model can cost as little as $150.

Studies in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and UK have shown that people who install them save between 5 and 15 percent of home energy use.

For people who already live in efficient homes, the savings could be greater, because behavior is a bigger driver of their home energy use.

That’s why the Building America pros studying the community in Sacramento are launching a project this summer to see just how much this feedback matters. Just like the Prius’s center console helps people drive their cars more efficiently, the researchers believe feedback meters could help homeowners “drive” their houses better.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.