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Redesigning Bills: The Effect of Format on Responses to Electricity Use Information
Casey Canfield and Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

Electricity bills could be a low-cost strategy for improving feedback about consumers’ home electricity use and helping households reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, quantitative feedback may be difficult to understand, especially for consumers with low numeracy or low energy literacy. Here, we build on the health communication literature, which has identified formats for communicating risks to low-numerate individuals. Participants saw one of three formats for presenting electricity use information including (a) tables, (b) bar graphs, and (c) icon graphs. In their assigned format, each participant saw three information types: (a) historical use, (b) comparison to neighbors, and (c) appliance breakdown. Three main findings emerged: First, the table format generated on average the best understanding across all three information types, across participants of all numeracy and energy literacy levels. Second, the benefit of alternative graphical formats varied depending on information type, in terms of effects on understanding and trust and liking. Neighbor comparison information was liked least and had the lowest intentions for behavior change, despite being no harder to understand than the appliance breakdown information. Third, individuals with lower numeracy and energy literacy understood all formats less. We discuss implications for designing utility bills that are understandable and motivate consumers.


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