OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

$1 million NSF grant aids energy conservation research at Oregon State University

10/12/2017

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University researcher has been awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities Program to continue and expand her work on household energy conservation interventions.

The project will be led by Hilary Boudet, an assistant professor of sociology who studies climate change and energy in the School of Public Policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

The goal of the three-year grant is to teach children, young adults and their families the value and importance of reducing their energy use and to use technology and data visualization techniques from engineering to better track and understand individuals’ energy use and conservation efforts.

“This project combines child- and youth-targeted interventions with data on energy behavior using the latest in ‘smart’ technology to monitor daily household energy use,” Boudet said. “Children are a critical constituency for energy-saving programs. When they adopt energy-saving behaviors at an early age, they are more likely to continue those behaviors as they grow up and move into adulthood.”

The research team also includes Ram Rajagopal, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and Mahnoosh Alizadeh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The researchers plan to tap into emerging technology, such as smart electrical meters and smart phone apps, to allow for a closer evaluation of participants’ energy use and highlight ways people may be able to conserve more.

“This will allow us to connect our intervention efforts to real energy data, so we can see where changes may be occurring,” Boudet said. “The level of detail we anticipate should give us new insights as to what works best to help people understand – and change – their own energy use.”

They also will test interventions designed to educate children, young adults and families about energy use and conservation; and determine whether the interventions and monitoring result in energy savings. Girl Scout troops, local high schools and a community college will participate in the project, named “Smart and Connected Kids for Sustainable Energy Communities.”

The program will be developed and tested in Fremont, California, where homes are already outfitted with “smart” electrical meters that closely monitor energy use and where researchers have an existing relationship with the Girl Scouts of Northern California. Other partners in the project include Chai Energy, the City of Fremont and Ohlone Community College. 

The project expands on Boudet’s previous energy intervention program, called Girls Learning Environment and Energy, or GLEE. In that project, Boudet and her team developed an energy conservation program for children that was tested with 30 Girl Scout troops and their parents in Northern California.

The children who participated in the program reported increases in energy-saving behaviors, such as turning off power strips at night and washing clothes in cold water, and the behavior continued for seven months after the trial program ended. They also found that the intervention had an effect on parents’ energy-saving behavior for more than eight months.

Boudet anticipates researchers will spend about a year refining the energy education program and developing evaluation procedures. The researchers will begin testing the program in the second year of the grant.

College of Liberal Arts

About the OSU College of Liberal Arts: The College of Liberal Arts includes the fine and performing arts, humanities and social sciences, making it one of the largest and most diverse colleges at OSU. The college's research and instructional faculty members contribute to the education of all university students and provide national and international leadership, creativity and scholarship in their academic disciplines.