The Human Perils of Scaling Smart Technologies: Evidence from Field Experiments

93 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2021 Last revised: 19 Sep 2022

See all articles by Alec Brandon

Alec Brandon

University of Chicago; Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School

Christopher M. Clapp

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

Robert D. Metcalfe

Boston University

Michael K. Price

University of Alabama - Department of Economics, Finance and Legal Studies

Date Written: September 12, 2022

Abstract

Smart-home technologies have been heralded as an important way to increase energy conservation. While in vitro engineering estimates provide broad optimism, little has been done to explore whether such estimates scale beyond the lab. We estimate the causal impact of smart thermostats on energy use via two novel framed field experiments in which a random subset of treated households have a smart thermostat installed in their home. Examining 18 months of associated high-frequency data on household energy consumption, yielding more than 16 million hourly electricity and daily natural gas observations, we find little evidence that smart thermostats have a statistically or economically significant effect on energy use. We explore potential mechanisms using almost four million observations of system events including human interactions with their smart thermostat. Results indicate that user behavior dampens energy savings and explains the discrepancy between estimates from engineering models, which assume a perfectly compliant subject, and actual households, who are occupied by users acting in accord with behavioral economists’ conjectures. In this manner, our data document a keen threat to the scalability of new user-based technologies.

Keywords: Energy Demand, Smart Grid, Smart Technology, Field Experiment

JEL Classification: D01, Q41, Q48, Q55

Suggested Citation

Brandon, Alec and Clapp, Christopher and List, John A. and Metcalfe, Robert D. and Price, Michael K., The Human Perils of Scaling Smart Technologies: Evidence from Field Experiments (September 12, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3961130 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3961130

Alec Brandon

University of Chicago ( email )

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

Christopher Clapp (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://chrisclapp.org/

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Robert D. Metcalfe

Boston University ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Michael K. Price

University of Alabama - Department of Economics, Finance and Legal Studies ( email )

P.O. Box 870244
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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