alternatives can be developed. Research is needed on how to design utility bills to be more useful as feedback, to develop ways for householders to learn more from reading their own meters, and to design feedback monitors and displays for use in residences, automobiles, and large buildings. Such research should emphasize communicating information in meaningful units and in exciting, eye-catching display formats.
The energy efficiency of equipment can also be made more visible by developing simple, understandable indices comparable to miles-per-gallon for automobiles. Further field testing of indices such as energy efficiency ratings for appliances and buildings is warranted because effective indices would decrease the level of effort needed to respond to energy price signals.
Energy audits and other informational programs can make energy flows and savings more visible by using vivid demonstrations with smoke sticks or infrared scanners and by using feedback techniques and energy efficiency indices. The question of whether the effort to make energy more visible must be publicly sponsored is still open. We do, however, have some doubts about the likelihood that utilities, which command extensive research resources and are in a particularly good position to make energy visible, will often do so effectively. They have done relatively little in this area so far, and their information programs would conflict with a desire to minimize customer complaints when feedback calls attention to rate increases.
Energy information programs must earn public trust. This need must be addressed in the design of any program. Information can be channeled to potential audiences through sources they find credible. To maintain their credibility these sources should monitor the quality of the information. Procedures and incentives can also be created to encourage information-providers to work in the energy user’s interest. It is also possible to give energy users better ways to make independent judgments—by making energy and energy savings more visible so the effectiveness of programs is more evident; by creating new institutions, on the model of Consumer Reports magazine, to work in the energy users’ interest to evaluate information and energy-related services available at the local level; and by directing the best available information to informal social networks that are highly trusted. Some of our suggestions may also be applicable to other programs. For example, tax-credit programs and low-income weatherization services are like information programs in that they have the same trouble getting the attention of all eligible energy users.
Information by itself is not sufficient to bring about all or nearly all the energy-efficient investments that would save households money over the long term. Some of the other significant barriers were outlined in Chapter 3, and others are discussed in Chapter 5.