Electricity Conservation in Context: A Mixed Methods Study of Residential Conservation Behaviour During an Electricity Shortage in New Zealand
Household energy behaviour has been studied across a range of disciplines including economics, social psychology, diffusion of innovation and sociological models. Recognising that energy decisions are not economically 'rational' this study draws on approaches from social psychology and sociology. These recognise that whilst individual behaviour can be influenced to be proenvironmental it is often heavily constrained by contextual factors. This study explored whether a relationship existed between electricity conservation in households and the socio-political environment in New Zealand during a hydroelectricity shortage in 2008. This was done so that constraints on demand-reduction initiatives might be better understood. A mixed methods approach was used. Study 1 used a thematic analysis of media reports to examine the sociopolitical context of the shortage period. It found that the issue was deeply political and debate was dominated by a focus on supply whilst conservation was predominantly portrayed as detrimental to households and the economy. Study 2 entailed a nationwide longitudinal survey that examined electricity conservation attitudes and behaviour. It found that householders increased conservation actions during the shortage by a small degree compared to everyday behaviour. Study 3 examined residential electricity consumption data from the period and estimated savings were lower than during previous similar shortages. The research suggests that a relationship did exist between the socio-political context and individual behaviour during the shortage. The research makes a case for a truly interdisciplinary approach to managing residential energy demand which takes into account the personal and social context within which energy consumption occurs and the multi-faceted social drivers of demand.