You can put many measures in place to reduce energy use, but very few changes can be implemented, or the full benefits realised, without co-operation from users.
Users need to be on board; this can be difficult to achieve as most people see energy as essential and expect that it is both cheap and ‘on tap’.
As the impacts of energy use including both financial costs and environmental impacts are rarely evident or immediately obvious, it does not encourage users to be mindful of their behaviour.
You need to find engaging ways of motivating users and promoting their action and concern with saving energy.
Student residential accommodation along with staff and students’ use of the campus facilities available to them represents a significant energy cost for an institution.
It is possible to change behaviours in useful ways by first improving the understanding of user behaviour, and then through use of social marketing techniques, socio-technical feedback using interactive dashboards, and the use of financial incentives, competition and cooperation.
Investigate what motivates your users
Have an energy champion to investigate student behaviour and seek opportunities for change.
At Coventry University, the CUSTOMER project sought to capture both quantitative and qualitative information about students’ use of computing in student accommodation. They looked at practices around ICT, heating and lighting usage, attitudes to energy usage, barriers to energy saving and the effectiveness of incentives and penalties. Using questionnaires and focus groups they found that financial incentives appeared to be the most effective in motivating students to change their behaviour, followed by competitions with prizes.
At the University of Lincoln, the Killawatts project developed a Facebook App to provides information and feedback on each student accommodation block at the university. The team at Lincoln also engaged students in the design of an energy intervention initiative that they would be prepared to participate in and submit course work based on that.
Get senior management buy-in
Senior management buy-in is critical if you are to get energy-saving projects off the ground.
Present your initiative as a business case and highlight the potential cost savings that can be made through energy-efficient behaviour. The message is that sustainable or ‘green’ practices also make good business sense and should be part of the organisation’s overall strategy.
Measure energy usage by metering
Whatever method you choose to engage with and motivate your users, the first step is to know enough detail about the energy being consumed – how much, where and by whom.
Electricity meter data is commonly seen as being owned by energy utility providers and service providers who create applications for institutional energy managers. This means groups that want to take ownership of an energy efficiency initiative will need to work closely with their estates staff in order to access and use the data in the way they want.
Look at your current metering setup. The level of granularity of meter readings is important – you may need to measure energy usage for particular areas, rather than for whole buildings, depending on how you are focusing your savings incentives. Do you want to compare the usage of individual rooms, or compare the usage between residential blocks, or, say, the usage in different computer suites?
The benefits of metering
The University of Central Lancashire has installed automatic meter reading (AMR) equipment has been installed to all gas, electric and water meters 1. The AMRs enable energy consumption to be monitored every half an hour. The university has approximately 30 water meters, 118 gas meters, 12 primary billing electricity meters and 23 electricity sub-meters.
Installing sub-metering to meter end use energy helps:
- identify where all the energy goes
- provides a better perspective on building operation
- Identify where energy use is greatest
- to assess demand patterns and benchmarking
- monitor patterns of energy use
- reveal useful trends in out of hours energy use
- spot things that go wrong before it’s too late
- operators to understand and manage their building better
- provide feedback to building operators on building performance
- provide feedback on performance against targets
Metering and energy display at De Montfort University
De Montfort University undertook extensive monitoring and measuring of both the energy consumption of a single building, installed sub-meters to provide more detailed information on building-user’s energy consumption and conducted a survey of building users’ attitudes to energy and ICT use. Then a group of staff and students were recruited to provide feedback and recommendations for the design of an ICT feedback tool or energy display that would connect people to their energy consumption.
An ICT tool was designed using the Yahoo Widget platform that provided building users in the Queens Building with the ability to view their electrical consumption in more detail from their own computers.
The project found that although users were interested in seeing energy consumption data this did not significantly affect their usage. This suggests that users may need guidance, or that their available energy-saving actions may be small in relation to the overall energy load of the building, and also that a greater level of engagement and interaction may be needed.
Webinar - Engaging users
Dashboards which display the energy usage statistics of a building or part of a building are a starting point for raising awareness.
However, the results of a number of projects highlighted here suggest the need to shift the focus of energy dashboards away from being simply an information display, towards being a community-building tool that encourages interaction and involvement. There are several ways of achieving this.
Set the information in a context
For example, show the data in a dashboard as part of energy saving targets and the scarcity of the resource:
- represent energy as a monthly quota based on institutional greenhouse gas emission targets
- visualise energy use in real time as the amount of this quota that has been used, to highlight that it is a finite resource
- represent savings in different forms such as money, kilograms of CO2 equivalent and cars off the road so it is easy for users to understand
“Displays need to be very simple so they can be interpreted instantaneously.”
Hilary Pape - University of Bradford School of Health Green Champion
Use competition and cooperation
The desire to ‘do better’ than others can be a strong encouragement in energy saving. This may work even better if there are prizes for coming first.
The expectation of cooperation can also work in a similar way. If a number of groups are working together to reduce energy usage there may be more impetus and also some social expectation to ‘do your bit’. People need to feel that others are contributing too.
Research strongly suggests that ‘gamification’ of energy dashboards might be a way of making competition or cooperation more appealing 2. The project drew on online game research to find ways to motivate people to tackle complex tasks.
"Online game designers are particularly good at representing quantitative measures of performance as qualitative indicators of social capital. In other words, getting people to slay dragons so they can be rewarded with points/badges they can show off. We set out to ask whether similar techniques could be used to help people cooperate on slaying a different set of dragons."
Jisc Open to change project, Noble et al.
De Montfort University energy displays
De Montfort University designed a simple web based information-feedback tool that could report electrical consumption of ICT equipment back to users in a single building. They then developed a sophisticated smart phone application called Greenview that would connect staff and students across De Montfort to the energy consumption of their buildings.
The app visualises energy use in buildings on De Montfort University campus by presenting the buildings as habitats for endangered species, providing a fun and engaging way to look at how people can look after our environment. It provides real-time data through meter readings provided on a half-hourly basis, and with the inclusion of graphical data options, appeals to the range of preferences individuals have for viewing and interpreting data. The Greenview App won the University a 'Green Gown' award for green ICT in 2012.
These successful projects at De Montfort have shown the need to move beyond linear quantitative approaches to presenting information on energy and sustainability that is fun, creative and engaging. The projects also found that in order to get more response from users, guidance on changing energy-use behaviour was needed alongside displays of usage, and that displays needed to be easily understandable, and what energy usage meant in terms of savings should be clear.
Highlight the benefits
Explain how savings are being used so users can see how their efforts are paying off.
Allowing two-way interaction means users feel they have more a stake in the initiative.
The University of Central Lancashire facilities management and learning and information services departments worked together to encourage staff and students at the university to engage in activities to reduce energy consumption on campus. They did this by making information about energy consumption – and their activities to reduce it – easily available.
This was developed in the form of a dashboard that shares data captured by automatic meter reading (AMR) equipment with users, and enables them to drill down to data at building level. The dashboard enables two-way communication between Facilities Management (in particular the team responsible for environment and sustainability) and staff and students. This allows ideas, feedback and successes to be freely shared.
In addition to the dashboard, a desktop gadget was also developed that enabled users to see the energy consumption of the building they were in, or select other buildings on campus.
Energy saving initiatives should not be isolated. Communications and increased links with social media are important to their success.
Changing values and behaviours needs to work with communities, rather than individuals; the creation of virtual communities involved in energy saving through the use of Facebook and other social media, combined with energy dashboards, may be a better way of reaching students. Users also need to be able to provide feedback on any initiative so you can judge how well it is working – social media can make this easier.
Think about involving your communications department to help you publicise what you are doing and its environmental and cost-saving benefits.
Best practice tips for engaging students
as identified by Coventry University 3
- Use the highest level of metering you can afford
likely to provide more information to students on the impact of their actions, and is perhaps more clearly and fairly attributable to the relevant individual or group
- Make feedback visible for all monitored units
to create awareness of others engaging and to influence social norming
- Use emoticons
or other techniques in addition to energy readings, to reinforce behavioural changes as positive or negative
- Use financial incentives, such as rebates on rent
evidence suggests students are more likely to respond to financial or cost incentives
- Competitions and rivalry are good motivators
prizes are an added incentive
- Take time to understand why students behave as they do
this is necessary to exploring ways to get them to behave differently
- Educate students
in ICT power management functionality
- Make sustainable behaviour fun
consider using games and other fun activities
- Use social media
take advantage of existing virtual communities and create new ones for your target market
- Involve celebrities as role models
organise social champions to promote engagement
- Organise campaigns from the start of the academic year
and target first year students when they are exploring new social opportunities
- Consider synergies with other student induction events and social activities
be flexible and responsive when planning
- Monitor building occupant behaviour
to inform building management systems settings
They also note that the use of smart technology does not remove the need to develop environmental knowledge, values and responsibility amongst consumers
A drive to engage users is not something that can be done as a one-off exercise. It needs to be repeated, so that new habits and behaviours become fully embedded and can adapt to changes in the student population, coping with new students with new habits, motivations and behaviours, as well as continuing to engage existing users.
Make sure your energy-saving initiative is adaptable and can be amended easily – what happens to your targets if, say, building use changes and more people use it?
In a world of rapid technological change, strategies will also need to be adapted as new technologies become available and existing technologies become more mature.
Look out for the rebound effect: even if you manage reduce usage of a specific resource there is often the temptation spend the savings on other energy-intensive activities. Avoid this by ring-fencing savings for use in other green initiatives.
University of Central Lancashire’s experience found that while integrating meter data with a dashboard and any other apps or widgets in order to engage users may be a challenge, it is worthwhile as it brings much more awareness of energy use patterns to a much wider group of people. Visual displays of data are worth doing as they allow users to quickly engage with matter.
The proportion of energy use that is under the control of the user may actually be quite small – so focus on the marginal gains.
If doing a year-by-year comparison of energy use, correct for ambient temperatures in order to get a fair comparison.
Be realistic, but not daunted by the technical challenges ahead.
"Building a dashboard is well worth doing. It will give you a really good understanding of your base line and anomalous energy use. Be prepared for a steep learning curve and makes friends with people in IT Services - you will need them to make this work!"
Ruth Taylor - Energy & Carbon Officer, UCLan
This is one in a series of guides around green ICT. You may find also the following of interest:
- Efficient buildings: tailored heat and light
- Reducing your ICT energy costs
- Using videoconferencing and collaboration technology to reduce travel and carbon emissions
- Improving energy efficiency in your data centre
- 1 Read the iBuilding Project Report - http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/5161/1/iBuilding_Final_Report.pdf
- 2 Jisc Open to Change project: https://sites.google.com/site/jiscopentochange/
- 3 Source: Using Technology and Engaging With Students to Save Energy: A Literature Review of Best Practice by the CUSTOMER Project - http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/5383/1/Coventry_University_Students_Researc...