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Energy Efficiency Information: The Role of Information Programs in Closing the Energy Efficiency Gap
Improvements in energy efficiency often appear to pay for themselves in energy cost savings. However, people frequently fail to make such improvements—a phenomenon known as the “energy efficiency gap.” RFF researchers are exploring the role of information in explaining and overcoming the energy efficiency gap. Specifically, they are looking at energy labels, voluntary certifications, energy audits, and disclosure and benchmarking of buildings’ energy use to see whether and how information provision can lead to efficiency improvements.
Below are highlights of recent and ongoing research at RFF.
- A survey of homeowners to understand their participation in and response to energy audits. Only about five percent of American homeowners have had a home energy audit and many of them have not followed through with the audit’s recommendations. In this study, RFF’s Karen L. Palmer and Margaret A. Walls conducted a survey to better understand the low uptake of audits and the limited follow-through on energy retrofits and improvements. Initial results were released on RFF's blog, Common Resources.
- An assessment of the impacts of city commercial and multi-family building energy benchmarking and disclosure programs. Ten cities and one county in the United States have adopted ordinances that require building owners to report their energy use and benchmark it relative to other buildings. Will these information disclosure programs change the rental and sales markets for such buildings and spur building owners to invest in energy efficiency improvements? RFF’s Karen L. Palmer and Margaret A. Walls are investigating. New work on this topic includes:
Current research is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
- Energy Efficiency Gap. In this discussion paper, which was also published in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, RFF’s Karen L. Palmer and Kenneth Gillingham of Yale University review explanations for the apparent energy efficiency gap, including reasons why the size of the gap may be overstated, economic explanations for such a gap, and recent evidence from behavioral economics on why an efficiency gap could exist.
- Home Energy Audits. For this discussion paper, RFF’s Karen L. Palmer, Margaret A. Walls, Hal Gordon, and Todd Gerarden conducted a survey of businesses that provide energy auditing and retrofit services to understand the extent to which these home energy professionals are providing information that closes the energy efficiency gap, and how and why homeowners act, or do not act, on this information. This paper was also published in Energy Efficiency.
- Energy Labeling Programs. RFF's Juha Siikamäki and RFF board member Richard Newell of Duke University evaluated the effectiveness of energy efficiency labeling in guiding decisions on household appliances in this discussion paper. They found that labels could have a substantial impact in such decisionmaking. This research was also published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.
- Green and Energy Certifications. RFF's Margaret A. Walls, Karen L. Palmer, and Todd Gerarden assess the impact of Energy Star and two local “green” certifications on home sales prices in new research, finding that the local certifications appear to have larger effects on sales prices than Energy Star and that Energy Star impacts are smaller for newer homes. See an overview of the research.
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