Kira O’Hare – Undergraduate in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Katie Earles – Undergraduate in the School of Public Policy
Taylor Sparacello – Undergraduate in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
Catherine Moore – Undergraduate in the School of Public Policy
School: Georgia Institute of Technology
Challenge: Smart Sensors and Controls for Residential Buildings
Problem Definition: Identify a specific community impacted by this problem. Describe this stakeholder community and the specific challenges it faces. The community can be a subset of society with specific needs such as a marginalized population.
Project Title: Behavioral Incentives on Children and Their Parents to Reduce Energy Consumption
Solution: Households with children ages 14 and under are known to consume 25.1% more energy than those without—at an average of 13,106.02 kWh per year per household (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2009). This number is very significant and is the equivalent of the energy required to charge 1.2 million smartphones. The potential energy savings make households with children an incredibly important target population. Despite ample evidence depicting the role of children in influencing parental behavior regarding energy use (Boudet, 2016), children’s role in promoting energy efficient habits remains largely understudied. Our study proposes an app that utilizes real-time energy usage information with data provided by residential smart sensors and incorporates e-learning, gamification, and social normative pressure to incentivize families to reduce their energy consumption. We consider the use of three complementary mechanisms to increase energy efficiency in children. The first is gamification with an emphasis on environmental education and consumption awareness; the second is tailored information campaigns including environment and health-based information; the third is normative social pressure where a household’s energy use is compared to that of similar neighbors. By partnering with the local school districts, in which some elementary schools will be randomly chosen to participate with the remaining schools serving as a control group, we will recruit approximately 1,400 students to use the app to build their biome, an interactive digital ecosystem that rewards the user for energy efficient behavior. This will encourage adults at home to participate in energy saving strategies. Through the influence children have on their parents, we will activate energy saving habits in the home. We hypothesize that if families incorporate this app into their daily routine, they will be more likely to form energy efficient habits, especially during peak demand hours. The energy saving potential of these gamification strategies could be between 3-13%, which would reduce CO2 emissions nationally by up to 64.2 million metric tons (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2009; Grossberg, Wolfson, Mazur-Stommen, Farley, & Nadel, 2015). This is equivalent to the coal burned from over 350,000 railcars, which is known to cause detrimental health defects such as childhood asthma and cancer (Munawer, 2017). These interventions are particularly beneficial due to their scalability through widespread digital technologies, low cost, and implementations that encourage conservation during peak periods when energy efficiency is most needed through behavior change.