Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A sociotechnical energy transition requires both a shift to new technologies and attention to social issues like political movements, policy and human behavior. This dissertation investigates social elements of the renewable energy transition occurring at different scales. The core research questions are: How are universities creating and responding to the shifting language of fossil fuel investments? How and for whom do behavioral interventions work? And finally, do in-home displays (IHDs) change behaviors and attitudes of millennial energy users?
The three studies covered here occurred within higher education and reflect the importance of colleges and universities as dynamic players in energy transitions. These spaces encourage learning and organizational change on the inside while also pushing outward, challenging social norms. Using a coding approach and text analysis software, this research identifies common frames of language used by colleges and universities who have released formal statements rejecting or adopting divestment policies. This study provides a quantitative assessment of themes and an early overview of this dynamic movement.
The second and third study describe the outcomes of a behavioral energy experiment with off-campus students at the University of Vermont testing real-time feedback and financial incentives on individuals' behavior. The second study analyzes the results of a survey conducted with participants in the experiment, investigating changes in attitudes and self-reported behaviors and correlations with actual energy usage. Applying Wilcoxon-signed rank tests and a repeated measures marginal model, showed a minimal effect from the behavioral interventions in survey responses. The results also raise questions about surveys as a reliable predictor for behavior-based outcomes. In the third study, interview data from participants sheds light on questions of how and for whom behavioral interventions work. A within-households split-incentive is discovered, describing one factor contributing to the limited effect of in-home displays on household energy usage. Other factors affecting household energy use are also discussed. This dissertation concludes with recommendations for utilities and policy makers.
Number of Pages
Palchak, Elizabeth, "An Analysis Of Energy Transitions At Different Scales: Fossil Fuel Divestment In Higher Education And Individual Behavior" (2019). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1147.
Available for download on Saturday, May 23, 2020