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Energy conservation begins at home

Release2015-05-27

Kannika Thampanishvong

One of the most important policy challenges facing Thailand is how to promote electricity conservation.

Rapid economic growth has spurred electricity demand in Thailand. While the industrial sector, the business sector and the public sector undoubtedly have a role to play, households remain responsible for 23% of national electricity consumption. The residential sector is potentially a source of electricity saving.

During the past few years, the government through the electric utilities has launched and implemented the demandside management (DSM) programmes. These programmes aim to educate, encourage and inform consumers about electricity conservation; stimulate manufacturers to produce energy-saving appliances; as well as pursue energy efficiency and load management technologies.

Despite the implementation of these efforts, there is still room for consumers in the residential sector to cut their electricity usage. The Thailand Development Research Institute, therefore, undertakes research to determine strategies that successfully motivate Thai households to cut electricity consumption.

Small changes in behaviour can lead to changes in electricity use. The institute conducted field experiments with households in Min Buri and Nong Chok districts in Bangkok during November 2013 and August 2014, with help from the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA). We want to see if peer pressure and electricity saving tips can nudge people into saving electricity.

Households were assigned to “control” and “treatment” groups. The control group did not receive any nudges. Households in the first treatment group received monthly self versus neighbours’ electricity consumption comparisons. The second treatment group of households received electricity saving tips. Households in the third treatment group received both electricity saving tips and peer-comparison feedback.

During the field experiment that ran over a 10-month period, the home electricity reports, comprising neighbour comparison feedback or electricity saving tips or both, were sent out to households on a monthly basis.

The fixed-effect estimation method was used to determine whether nudges can help in cutting households’ electricity consumption and which type of nudge is the most effective.

Our results show that there might be joy in beating neighbours at something since the nudges work in term of motivating households to cut their electricity consumption.

The treatment group that received both peer-comparison feedback and electricity conservation advice achieved the highest and significant reduction in electricity. The estimation results indicate that the mean electricity consumption of households in the third treatment group statistically declined relative to the households in the control group.

Therefore, a combination of both electricity consumption feedback and electricity saving tips effectively influences changes in electricity consumption behaviour.

However, it is important to note that we do not know whether these impacts will be permanent since we have not monitored households’ electricity consumption behaviour after the experiment was over.

Given these results, the electricity authorities and the Thai government should consider whether to adopt peer-comparison feedback on households’ electricity consumption to supplement their current effort in providing electricity saving tips.

These agencies need to, however, consider whether it is cost effective for them to send the peer-comparison feedback and electricity saving tips with the regular monthly electricity bill.

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Kannika Thampanishvong is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). This article is based on research supported by the Economy and Environment Programme for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) of WorldFish. Policy analyses from the TDRI appears in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.

First published: ฺBangkok Post, May 27, 2015