Carnegie Mellon University
hanus_epp_phd_2018.pdf (9.64 MB)

An Engineering and Behavioral Sciences Approach to Understand and Inform Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Decision-Making

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posted on 2018-08-01, 00:00 authored by Nichole HanusNichole Hanus
In 2017, approximately 62% of electricity generated in the United Sates (U.S.) came from coal and natural gas sources, while only 8% came from wind and solar energy sources. This heavily fossil fuel dependent generation mix contributes to approximately 30% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) are two ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our electricity sector. This dissertation addresses the decision-making behavior of actors in and across the commercial, residential and educational sectors on the adoption of EE and RE technologies in the U.S. This work characterizes the barriers and motivations to adoption as well as the associated health and environmental benefits from offsetting electricity generated by fossil fuel power plants.

In Chapter 2, I employ an interview study to explore the behavioral and social factors in commercial building energy efficiency investment decision-making and to clarify the distinction between influences related to Economics/Technology and Psychology/Context. I find heterogeneity among interviewed experts and owners/managers regarding the value of corporate social responsibility (CSR). I also find that the relationship between owners/managers and their building engineering team heavily influences decision-making. Finally, the interviews reveal potentially promising new concepts related to psychological and social influences in the EE investment decision domain.

Chapter 3 focuses on the residential sector and details findings from two studies evaluating the effect of a clean energy campaign on civic engagement (e.g. signing a petition) among parents already taking advocacy actions (i.e. advocacy sample) and those who aren’t (i.e. public sample). Among our public sample, I find that participants who believe the campaign to be credible and comprehendible are more likely to take action than those who discredit the campaign or do not understand its message. Additionally, I find parents who have children under the age of 18 negatively adjust their attitudes towards fossil fuels after being presented with health information.
Finally, in Chapter 4, I focus on the educational sector and employ a benefit-cost analysis (BCA) to determine which states in the U.S. will benefit most from installing solar photovoltaic (PV) on their educational facilities and which PV projects are financially feasible. I find that solar PV in U.S. educational institutions can provide 100 TWh of electricity services annually, meeting 75% of these buildings current electricity consumption. The provision of electricity services from rooftop solar PV on educational institutions can reduce environmental, health and climate change damages by roughly $4 billion per year.

Discussed in Chapter 5 are this work’s contribution to the literature and the policy implications regarding the adoption of EE and RE among various actors revealed in Chapters 2 through 4. For instance, findings from Chapter 2 suggest that policy makers should consider non-economic factors related to EE adoption, such as the relationship between owners and building engineers. In Chapter 3, I learn that campaigns can inspire civic engagement among residential consumers if campaign materials are perceived credible and advocacy actions seem effective. In Chapter 4, results detail which regions in the U.S. stand to benefit the most from installing PV on their educational buildings and provides a baseline analysis for efficient incentive design.


NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Grant No. DGE1252522




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

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