Knowledge is (Less) Power: Experimental Evidence from Residential Energy Use
NBER Working Paper No. 18344
This paper presents experimental evidence that information feedback dramatically increases the price elasticity of demand in a setting where signals about quantity consumed are traditionally coarse and infrequent. In a randomized controlled trial, residential electricity customers are exposed to price increases, with some households also receiving displays that transmit high-frequency information about usage and prices. This substantially lowers information acquisition costs and allows us to identify the marginal information effect. Households only experiencing price increases reduce demand by 0 to 7 percent whereas those also exposed to information feedback exhibit a usage reduction of 8 to 22 percent, depending on the amount of advance notice. The differential response across treatments is significant and robust to the awareness of price changes. Conservation extends beyond the treatment window, providing evidence of habit formation, spillovers, and greenhouse gas abatement. Results suggest that information about the quantity consumed facilitates learning, which likely drives the treatment differential.
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