On May 25th-26th I had the honor to participate in a workshop on the language of energy.

Researchers, designers, and representatives from utilities and other energy-related organizations gathered in Naples to discuss the idea of developing a Natural Language for the Future Energy Customer, which is also the headline of the NATCONSUMERS European project sponsoring the workshop.

Building trust between consumers and utilities emerged as one of the key points. Non-transparent usage of more and more detailed consumption data, as well as arid and rare billing communications, represent the status quo in utility-customer relationships. This needs to be changed if we believe in the potential of active demand for energy savings. Utilities are lagging behind also in applying the insights from the empirical and theoretical scientific work on consumption feedback. Many field experiments and surveys provide by now valuable information on the importance of feedback contents, framing, frequency, interaction and social components to inspire energy-conservative consciousness and actions. Nonetheless some utilities are opening to collaborations with researchers, sharing data and insights.

We may also expect technological change to bring in our homes more and more smart devices with automated mechanisms for optimizing appliances energy usage, in a sense reducing the need for human engagement. Nonetheless, technological gadgets alone can hardly make the same difference as the one obtained with an aligned behavioral change. The ultimate question remains on how to make the behavioral change habitual. So let’s keep digging in the complex and non-rational path of consumer empowering, going from knowledge to actions to (good) habits.