Perceptions of Electricity-Use Communications: Effects of Information, Format, and Individual Differences


Electricity bills could be an effective strategy for improving communications about consumers' electricity use and promoting electricity savings. However, quantitative communications about electricity use may be difficult to understand, especially for consumers with low energy literacy. Here, we build on the health communication and graph comprehension literature to inform electricity bill design, with the goal of improving understanding, preferences for the presented communication, and intentions to save electricity. In a survey-based experiment, each participant saw a hypothetical electricity bill for a family with relatively high electricity use, covering information about (a) historical use, (b) comparisons to neighbors, and (c) historical use with appliance breakdown. Participants saw all information types in one of three formats including (a) tables, (b) bar graphs, and (c) icon graphs. We report on three main findings. First, consumers understood each type of electricity-use information the most when it was presented in a table, perhaps because tables facilitate simple point reading. Second, preferences and intentions to save electricity were the strongest for the historical use information, independent of format. Third, individuals with lower energy literacy understood all information less. We discuss implications for designing utility bills that are understandable, perceived as useful, and motivate consumers to save energy.


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering


United States. Department of Energy


This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DE-OE0000300 and DE-OE0000204) via a cost-share arrangement with the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center as well as the center for Climate and Energy Decision Making (SES-0949710; SES-1463492), through a cooperative agreement between the National Science Foundation and Carnegie Mellon University.

Keywords and Phrases

Electricity-Use Information; Energy Literacy; Graphs

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Article - Journal

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