Project at a Glance

Title: Identifying determinants of very low energy consumption rates observed in some California households

Principal Investigator / Author(s): Meier, Alan

Contractor: UC Davis

Contract Number: 09-326

Research Program Area: Climate Change

Topic Areas: Behavioral Change


California's 2050 climate goal calls for reducing carbon emissions by 80% below the 1990 baseline. Clearly reduced energy consumption in all sectors will be part of the solution. A small percentage of California electricity customers already live at consumption levels consistent with 80% emissions reductions. These "low users" -- consumers in the lowest decile -- offer concrete examples of the technologies and lifestyles involved in achieving drastic emissions reductions. We investigated a sample of urban California households to determine the extent to which income, house size, fuel substitution, and expert advice were associated with low usage. Surveys, telephone interviews, and a detailed customer dataset revealed aspects of appliance ownership and operation, building characteristics, demographics, attitudes, behaviors, and impacts of incentive programs. Surprisingly, the low-users encompass a diverse cross section of customers who are demographically similar to the general population. Low electricity usage was not a consequence of poverty, living in small apartments, or fuel substitution, although the lowest users are more likely than the general population to live alone. They employed diverse strategies to reach very low consumption but then often exceeded expert recommendations. Six profiles capture the diversity of the low user population, reflecting lowest usage, diverse cooling strategies, energy upgrades, and high quality of life. Relying on existing technologies the low user population reveals a host of low-energy lifestyles which demonstrate that California's climate policy goals are already achievable in the residential sector. The low user population can also inform decision-makers about successful policies and strategies to reduce residential energy use more widely.

For questions regarding this research project, including available data and progress status, contact: Research Division staff at (916) 445-0753

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