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Exploring the viability of a local social network for creating persistently engaging energy feedback and improved human well-being

Mäkivierikko, Aram, Bögel, Paula, Giersiepen, Annika N., Shahrokni, Hossein, Kordas, Olga
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.224 pp. 789-801
consumer behavior, energy use and consumption, focus groups, social class, social identification, social networks, surveys, viability
Long-term engagement of residents is crucial for demand response management, and thus grid stability in energy systems, but current approaches often fail to maintain or even achieve the necessary changes in consumer behaviour. Thus future customer engagement approaches will have to relate more strongly to customer needs in order to achieve long-term engagement. This study presents an approach based on a central need identified in psychological research, namely the need to belong to a group. A mixed methods approach was used to examine how an energy feedback approach that connects to this need could be designed. First, based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour and Social Identity Theory, a survey was conducted to examine the influence of e.g. norms held by the local social group of neighbours on energy behaviour. In contrast to previous studies on the influence of social groups on sustainable behaviour, no significant influence was found. However, other findings indicated that this was due to the low level of group identity, leading to the assumption that the need for social belonging was not fulfilled in the survey group. Second, focus group discussions were conducted to test this assumption in more detail. Findings from the focus groups confirm the assumption and reveal detailed insights on residential needs for stronger connections between neighbours. We conclude that a local social network could be a suitable solution to the need for local social belonging and, while also providing a context for energy feedback. Thus, implementing a local social network could lead to both persistently engaging energy feedback and also improve human well-being.