Shift Focus for United States Department of Energy

A human-centered strategy for connecting energy efficiency to people

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is the Cabinet-level agency in the United States government responsible for energy policy and nuclear safety. The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) works to strengthen the country’s energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality through public-private partnerships.

Over the past three decades, public awareness about the need for increased energy efficiency within the home has been on the rise. People are regularly bombarded with media messages about the need to conserve. Although economic, social, and political forces are well aligned to support energy-efficient behaviors and actions, most residential energy customers have yet to adopt power-saving technologies and habits. For the DOE-EERE, a question emerged: Why aren’t people doing more to conserve energy? The DOE-EERE engaged IDEO to develop strategies for answering this question by making energy efficiency more attractive to US residential customers.

IDEO conducted an intensive insight-gathering program, surveying experts in energy efficiency, assessing the relationships and networks of the DOE-EERE, and seeking inspiration from analogous human experiences. The resulting insights were surprising and often counter-intuitive, as consumers have varied reasons for conserving energy. Rising energy costs certainly encourage people to act differently; however, economics alone are inadequate for shifting behavior on a mass scale. While concern for the environment or threat from global warming motivates some people, it is irrelevant, even a turn-off, for others. To tackle the scope of the challenge, the team recognized the need to catalyze broadly the design of human-centered product and service experiences. The team also worked to map the needs and behaviors of energy consumers at a deeper, more emotionally resonant level.

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Project date: 2009