Press Release

Social science vital to country’s energy future, American Academy report says


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Greater attention to consumer attitudes and behavior could speed adoption of alternative energy technologies that would save the United States billions of dollars every year.

U.S. households account for 30 to 40 percent of energy use nationwide, an amount that could be reduced by 20 percent using available, no- to low-cost interventions that do not require a major lifestyle change. According to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “these savings can only be realized by combining behavioral interventions with useful policies aimed at facilitating their adoption.”

The report, Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy through Social Science, identifies barriers to the country’s adoption of alternative energy technologies and outlines strategies for using social science research and our knowledge of human behavior to overcome those obstacles. The findings are based on ongoing Academy work that was sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation and involves representatives from academia, industry, and government.

“The social sciences are vital to our energy system because they can tell us so much about how individual, household, and community behavior affects the acceptance of innovative technologies,” said Robert W. Fri, Director of the American Academy’s Alternative Energy Future project.

The Academy report calls on policy makers and industry to make better use of social science tools to engage and motivate consumers. The report cites as examples development of energy efficiency information for home renovation projects and more affective appliance labels. The report also suggests that utilities use social science-based best practices when deploying new technologies, such as smart meters, whose success depends on public acceptance by individual consumers.

“We need a much better understanding of how public attitudes, economic trends, and government regulations affect the development and adoption of clean energy,” said American Academy President Leslie C. Berlowitz. “This report demonstrates that interdisciplinary study in the areas of energy production and use might help to address some of the implementation challenges.”

The report is available online.