What Types of Interventions Change Energy Using Behaviours?

heater regulator



The UK government is committed to cutting the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 to 80% below the 1990 level; improving energy efficiency is at the heart of achieving this ambitious target. In formulating the UK's national Energy Efficiency Strategy, the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was interested in understanding the potential to reduce the domestic sector’s energy consumption through motivating behaviour change.

A myriad of such programmes and initiatives have been implemented in the UK and abroad, but their effectiveness is rarely well-understood. Therefore, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) to understand “What Works in Changing Energy Using Behaviours in the Home”.


The review is focused on energy use in the home, excluding travel to and from the home. This includes energy use for heating space, heating water, lighting, and electrical appliances. The focus is on interventions whose primary aim is to affect habitual behaviours, not to influence isolated rational decisions at the point of action.

This REA assesses the state of knowledge about “what works” in changing energy-using behaviour in the home, by critically reviewing previous trials and evaluations from the UK and abroad. To that end, a number of sub-questions are analysed:

  • To what extent were energy savings achieved through the interventions?
  • What kinds of behaviour change underlie the energy savings?
  • How do behaviour change outcomes vary between different groups?
  • Which of these interventions led to durable behaviour change?
  • What were the contextual factors that contributed to the outcomes of the interventions?
  • What is the evidence on the cost effectiveness of the different types of interventions?

Furthermore, the research team examined the qualities of the evaluation methods, so they could assess the strengths of existing evidence for different types of programmes.


Our approach to the REA follows Government Social Research Service Guidance. Through a systematic and transparent search process, the research team identified more than 4,000 potentially relevant articles from academic and grey literature databases. The team scanned through the titles and abstracts, selected more than 80 for full text review, and finally arrived at 45 relevant articles covering 48 trials or evaluations. The team recorded the search and paper selection criteria in an “REA protocol” so the whole process was transparent.

Research Findings

As well as more traditional approaches (including advertising campaigns), this REA identified a wide range of other approaches, such as the provision of Home Energy Reports that compare households’ consumption with their neighbours’, and community-based social marketing programmes that encourage participants to work in small teams to motivate each other to change.

Below we focus on the key findings relevant to the two aforementioned innovative approaches (we refer interested readers to the full report for other findings):

  • Provision of Home Energy Reports, which present both comparative consumption information and energy efficiency advice, can lead people to change their energy-using behaviour. In the majority of studies reported to date, such reports have returned energy savings on the order of 1% to 3% per household.
  • Team-based approaches, which use peer support (and pressure) as a way to encourage changes in behaviour, have led to energy savings and behaviour change in a number of programmes. The evidence includes cases where these approaches have led to energy savings among participating households on the order of 8% to 10%. However, wide implementation of such programmes may be limited by the requirement for highly tailored instructions and coaching to each household or team, and the self-selected bias of highly motivated participants.
  • Some, but not all, behaviour change programmes lead to durable energy reductions. The evidence from well-designed evaluations of Home Energy Reports and team-based interventions shows that energy reductions can be sustained over periods of two years or more. While competitions can raise awareness and lead to large (sometimes radical) short-term changes, evidence of their durability is significantly weaker than that of Home Energy Reports and team-based interventions.

This REA informed consumer insight analysis in DECC’s November 2012 national Energy Efficiency Strategy, setting out the direction of their policy for the coming decades. The RAND Europe report has been published alongside the Strategy on the DECC website.

Project Team

Flavia Tsang
Peter Burge
Stephanie Diepeveen
Benoit Guerin
Sam Drabble
Evan Bloom

Research Collaborators

Dr Tim Chatterton, Institute for Sustainability, Health and Environment, University of the West of England
Dr Charlie Wilson, Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia