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News Release

October 27, 2009


Tammy Goodall, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center: (650) 724-7296,

Mark Shwartz, Woods Institute for the Environment: (650) 723-9296,

Stanford researchers awarded $6.27 million to study energy efficiency and human behavior

A Stanford University research team has been awarded $6.27 million to develop an interactive software system that encourages people to be more energy efficient at home. The funding, which covers a two-year period, includes $4,992,651 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and about $1.28 million in matching grants is anticipated to come from Stanford and the California Energy Commission.

The Stanford team will focus on “smart technologies” designed to give consumers information about household energy consumption.

“The U.S. has spent billions of dollars creating a smart infrastructure,” said project principal investigator Byron Reeves, a professor of communication and faculty co-director of Stanford’s Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR). “For example, utilities are installing smart meters in homes to measure how much electricity is being consumed. But to be valuable, people need to be engaged with the information and use it to make good energy decisions.”

“Current technology is often hard to use,” said Carrie Armel, project director and research associate at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC).  “Too often, people receive information that’s complex, boring and is presented via unintelligible devices that fail to engage or be personally relevant. If you can present information that’s engaging and usable, then people can change their behavior and potentially reduce energy consumption between 10 and 30 percent.”

The combination of engineering and social sciences is an exciting theme throughout the university, said project co-principal investigator James Sweeney, professor of management science and engineering and director of PEEC.  “This project, by combining technology systems and human behavior, will empower people to take charge of their electricity consumption decisions,” Sweeney said.

The core research team also includes co-principal investigators Thomas Robinson, a professor of pediatrics, and Banny Banerjee, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. The project includes 14 other faculty co-investigators with expertise in engineering and human behavior focusing on interactive media, data analytics, social networks, community outreach and economic incentive programs.

Industries, such as Google and Pacific Gas and Electric Company, as well as several energy efficiency startup companies, are very interested in the link between behavior and energy, Reeves added.
Established in 2006, PEEC promotes technologies, systems and practices that are energy efficient and economical. Research at the center focuses on six core areas: buildings, transportation, energy systems, behavior, economic modeling and policy. PEEC is one of three interdisciplinary research centers in the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford.  

ARPA-E was created in 2007 to support high-risk, high-reward research that leads to transformative solutions for climate change and energy security. On Oct. 26, ARPA-E awarded research grants totaling $151 million to 37 businesses and institutions across the country, including Stanford.

The H-STAR Institute at Stanford supports interdisciplinary research that focuses on how people use information technology, how it affects people’s lives, and innovative uses of technologies in learning, entertainment, commerce and national security.



Byron Reeves, Department of Communication: (650) 725-3033,

Jim Sweeney, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center: (650) 787-4333,

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