Understanding How to Interpret Your Energy Use

Reposted from i.e., the Center for Energy and Environment's Innovation Exchange blog -- http://mncee.org/Innovation-Exchange/ie/

 “Providing consumers with easy access to data on their energy consumption can help give them the tools they need to make informed decisions about their energy use. Developing applications and services to help consumers understand and control their energy use is a field ripe for American innovation.” -  US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu

 

Our residential energy efficiency program has provided Energy Snapshots to homeowners since 2008. Prior to each home visit, our program participants sign utility bill release forms, giving us access to the previous year’s natural gas and electric bills. Among other things, the Energy Snapshot shows the homeowner graphs of their monthly energy use compared to a calculated Minnesota average of like sized houses. 

 

To our “surprise”, not everyone intuitively understands these graphs nor do they delight in the insights so readily apparent on them. We have also learned that we need to train our home energy counselors on how to interpret the graphs and communicate them to the homeowner. With the increasing trend of customer feedback reports supplied by utilities as well as the greater accessibility to energy use data via smart thermostats, the smart grid and Green Button, now may be a good time to think about visual communication, visual literacy, and education.

Your average person may not have the graphical fluency to read a line chart. Expecting them to relate the chart to their actual energy use requires an additional leap of faith. Here are a few examples. What lessons can you draw from them? Leave your findings in the comments section below: 

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Example 4:



Experience has taught us that homeowners need guidance to understand theses graphs, so our home energy counselors must be able to interpret the graphs and then explain their findings to the clients. We train our counselors with TWI techniques. Here’s the illustration we use to help our counselors understand the gas and electric energy use graphs:




Since electric and gas data are a direct manifestation of their energy use behaviors, these graphs’ content can provide a clarion call to energy saving actions. However, to make informed decisions, you need to know how to understand the information. According to a recent survey, only 24% of Americans consider themselves knowledgeable about energy. But four out of five are interested in learning how to use less energy, and 57% understand that energy savings will require behavior change and new technologies. How much do we need to educate our customers so that they can best interpret and use the information? More importantly, are we clear about our learning objectives for this? And then, what are the best ways to display this information to turn it into actionable knowledge? Lots of food for thought.

Contributing authors: Heather Hanson and Anna Jursik

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