Adjustable Green Defaults Can Help Make Smart Homes More Sustainable

Smart home technologies offer exciting opportunities to promote more efficient uses of energy. For instance, programmable thermostats, centralized lighting controls, and rooftop solar panels all have potential for energy conservation and efficiency. However, these technologies alone will not guarantee energy savings. Whereas previous research on smart homes has focused on the technologies themselves, relatively little work has addressed the factors that shape the human-technology interface. In this review paper, we argue that in order to ensure any savings, smart home technologies must first be adopted by end-users, and once adopted, they must be used in ways that promote energy efficiency. We focus on three areas of behavioral research with implications for smart home technologies: (1) defaults; (2) perceived adjustability or control; and (3) trust in automation. Linking these areas, we propose a new concept for improving the efficiency gains of smart homes. First, although smart device controls can help save energy, considerably larger energy efficiency gains can be realized through smart automation. But importantly, the default settings of systems should be “green”, to maximize energy savings. Second, many people have concerns around relinquishing decision-making to technologies, which can reduce the likelihood of adoption. People want to be, or at least to feel, in control of their homes, even if they do not adjust settings post-installation. Further, consumer trust in technologies encourages adoption in the first place; trust also impacts consumer interactions with installed devices and can impact default acceptance. Combining these concepts, we recommend that smart home technologies build consumer trust and come pre-programmed with adjustable green defaults, which permit consumers to change initial green settings.