"Maybe Somebody Forgot to Turn the Chiller on": Energy Information and Behavior In Small Businesses

Paul Komor
Willett Kempton

DOI: 10.2190/FRTW-T45H-CBD9-VCDU


Behavioral issues affecting energy use in small commercial buildings are explored. Interviews with energy decision makers reveal poor information on energy consumption and energy-using equipment. One striking example is that not one of the managers asked was aware that they paid a demand (kW) charge, even though this charge represented, on average, 43 percent of their electricity bills. Graphical feedback was developed to improve user information related to energy use. This graphical feedback was experimentally presented to a subset of store managers and their reactions were evaluated in open-ended interviews. The experiment compared different time periods of feedback and found that the preferred time period was a function of the user's job responsibilities. For example a store manager preferred daily feedback, since it provided information on equipment operation, which was her responsibility. In contrast, a store owner preferred monthly feedback so he could compare energy costs with other costs, which were billed on a monthly basis. Respondents saw both dollars and kWh as useful, but usually preferred dollars. Demand charges were not well understood, and were difficult to communicate even with our graphical methods. Respondents saw inter-store comparisons as valuable, but potentially misleading due to variations in the levels of service and comfort provided across different stores. It is argued that improved information is a necessary but not sufficient response to energy inefficiency in small commercial buildings.

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