Facilitating Adoption of Technologies

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There are a number of barriers to the adoption of technologies that could potentially reduce GHG emissions. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently suspended Energy Star certification for programmable thermostats because it was unable to show that they save energy in actual use (EPA, 2009a). Similar difficulties could be in store for "smart meters," which are promoted as devices that will allow households to manage energy use to save money and reduce emissions, but which are often designed mainly for the information needs of utility companies rather than consumers. Research on improved designs of these and other types of monitoring and control equipment could help reduce energy use by helping users operate homes, motor vehicles, and commercial and industrial facilities more efficiently.

There are similar opportunities for improved energy efficiency through behavioral change. For example, U.S. households could significantly reduce their GHG emissions (and save money) by adopting more energy-efficient driving behaviors and by properly maintaining automobiles and home heating and cooling systems (Dietz et al., 2009b). Research on behavioral change suggests that a good portion of this potential could actually be achieved, but further analysis is needed to develop and assess specific strategies, approaches, and incentives.

In general, barriers to technology adoption have received only limited research attention (e.g., Gardner and Stern, 1996; NRC, 2005a; Pidgeon et al., 2003). Such research can identify barriers to faster adoption of technologies and develop and test ways to overcome these barriers through, for example, better technological design, policies for facilitating adoption, and practices for addressing public concerns. This research can also develop more realistic estimates of technology penetration rates given existing barriers and assess the perceived social and environmental consequences of technology use, some of which constitute important barriers to or justifications for adoption. Finally, the gap between technological potential and what is typically accomplished might be reduced by integrating knowledge from focused, problem-solving research on adoption of new technologies and practices (e.g., Stern et al., 2009, in press).

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