Smart Tech, Dumb Humans: The Perils of Scaling Household Technologies

91 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2021

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: November 10, 2021

Abstract

Smart-home technology has been heralded as an important way to increase energy conservation, but causal evidence remains scarce. We estimate the causal impact of smart thermostats on energy use using data from two novel field experiments in which a random subset of treated households were given a smart thermostat that was installed in their home free of charge. We combine this experimental data with 18 months of high-frequency data on household energy consumption in the form of more than 16 million hourly electricity and daily natural gas observations. In contrast to advertised savings based on engineering models, we find little evidence that smart thermostats have a statistically or economically significant effect on energy use. This result is robust to the inclusion of numerous controls and when the model is estimated on various subsamples of relevance for grid managers and policymakers (e.g., by hour of the day). 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 and those observed in our field experiments.

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., Smart Tech, Dumb Humans: The Perils of Scaling Household Technologies (November 10, 2021). 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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