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NATural Language Energy for Promoting CONSUMER Sustainable Behaviour

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Changing energy use behaviour

Trying to make households more sustainable is not just a technological issue. The NATCONSUMERS consortium has created a tool to try and change behaviour, using tailor-made messages that consumers will understand.

Energy

A significant proportion of the energy we consume continues to be wasted through inefficiencies in our buildings, heating and lighting. According to European Commission data, domestic households accounted for 25 % of total EU energy use in 2014. Most initiatives aimed at reducing this figure have focused on technical installations, for example, improvements to the building, heating and cooling systems. But this is not the whole story, says NATCONSUMERS project coordinator, Zoltan Kmetty of Hungarian energy consulting company Ariosz. ‘These approaches tend to ignore the factors affecting user behaviour and often do not take into account their inbuilt biases. This is the most important obstacle for the uptake of energy efficiency products.’ ‘Consumer feedback is an essential element to change consumers' attitudes. That means making their energy use more visible and controllable by the customer,’ says Kmetty. Providing tailored advice on how to improve household energy efficiency is known as the feedback approach and multiple studies have shown it to be much more effective than just providing general information. ‘We believe that with a good feedback approach a 10 % energy saving can be achieved,’ adds Kmetty. To do this, the NATCONSUMERS consortium have designed what they call a ‘self-centred framework.’ This means energy efficiency advice is specifically tailored to households. The team created a model which divided consumers depending on their patterns of energy use (using smart meter data) and their socio-demographics, which indicates their expected energy use and their attitudes and values. ‘From this, we can identify what interests each householder – for example, are they interested in saving money, protecting the environment, or using new technical gadgets,’ explains Kmetty. Analysing data from five countries, the team found that they could create household categories with different energy use patterns. This then helped to determine the content of advice messages that should be directed at different households. Upon this framework the consortium built a ‘Natural Language Generator’ – a system that can generate advice in an easy-to-read, conversational format. ‘This means communicating in a natural, emotionally intelligent way, avoiding jargon or technical language and using language which varies and evolves according to the user,’ says Kmetty, ‘and it could be pictures, a light, or a sound.’ The consortium has conceived systems that could interact with people through various channels, reminding them to reduce their energy use. Through a proof of concept web-tool, stakeholder groups including technological partners, consumer organisations, energy consultancies, policy makers, and the research community had the opportunity to assess the mechanism and found it promising. Kmetty adds, ‘the NATCONSUMERS tool has the capacity to change the long-term behaviour of households and reduce energy consumption. It could ultimately help reduce carbon emissions, deal with energy poverty and improve the relationship between consumers and utility companies.’

Keywords

NATCONSUMERS, energy saving, energy use, behaviour, consumer feedback, natural language

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