Argonne National Laboratory

Research and Development Opportunities for Technologies to Influence Water Consumption Behavior

TitleResearch and Development Opportunities for Technologies to Influence Water Consumption Behavior
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsLevin, T, Horner, R, Muehleisen, R
Date Published09/2016
InstitutionArgonne National Laboratory
CityArgonne, IL USA
Report NumberANL/ESD-16/17

In April 2015, Argonne National Laboratory hosted a two-day workshop that convened water experts and stakeholders from across industry, government, and academia to undertake three primary tasks: 1) identify technology characteristics that are favorable for motivating behavioral change, 2) identify barriers that have prevented the development and market adoption of technologies with these characteristics in the water sector, and 3) identify concrete research and development pathways that could be undertaken to overcome these barriers, increase the penetration of technologies that influence water consumption behavior, and ultimately reduce domestic water consumption.

While efforts to reduce water consumption have gained momentum in recent years, there are a number of key barriers that have limited the effectiveness of such efforts. Chief among these is the fact that many consumers have limited awareness of their water consumption patterns because of poor data availability, and/or are unmotivated to reduce their consumption because of low costs and split incentives. Without improved data availability and stronger price signals, it will be difficult to effect true transformative behavioral change.

This report also reviews a number of technology characteristics that have successfully motivated behavioral change in other sectors, as well as several technologies that could be developed specifically for the water sector. Workshop participants discussed how technologies that provide active feedback and promote measurable goals and social accountability have successfully influenced changes in other types of behavior. A range of regulatory and policy actions that could be implemented to support such efforts are also presented. These include institutional aggregation, revenue decoupling, and price structure reforms. Finally, several R&D pathways were proposed, including efforts to identify optimal communication strategies and to better understand consumer perceptions and psychology as they relate to human behavior regarding water consumption.

The findings presented in this reportcan help to inform policy makers as they develop new policies and seek to support new research to help consumers use water more efficiently. It is our hope that these findings will also be utilized to prioritize topics for additional follow-up workshops to address individual issues and barriers more directly and in more detail. The goal of such future workshops will be to develop specific solutions, research plans, and technology development pathways that can be undertaken to increase the market penetration of technologies that effect behavioral change and reduce water consumption.