7 December 2018

Easier to save energy by playing a game

Households are better able to follow tips to save energy by playing a game than using a standard dashboard with instructions. Today, the publication of researcher Jan Dirk Fijnheer received the Best Paper Award at a conference in the Sicilian capital of Palermo. Fijnheer has observed the cause behind this change in behaviour: “People will keep at a task like this for longer if you turn it into a game.”

Two years ago, Utrecht University external PhD candidate Jan Dirk Fijnheer created the Powersaver Game, an online game in which participants are challenged to save energy in their homes for five weeks. “In the game, you learn how to apply simple energy-saving tips in your daily life. Things like doing the laundry at 30 degrees Celsius instead of 60. Or turning out the light when you leave the room.” That can save a lot of energy over time. The game participants reduced their energy consumption by an average of 33.6 percent compared to the control group, and by more than 50 percent when it came to consumption of natural gas.

Game players receive tips to save energy on, for example, the laundry..


Serious games are an increasingly popular tool among employers for training their employees on specific actions or concepts. Fijnheer’s research has shown that they can also be used to encourage behavioural changes at home as well. Fijnheer explains: “At the start of the Powersaver Game, the participants were just as convinced about the utility of energy conservation as the control group, which only received tips via an instructional dashboard. But it was more fun for the players to persevere with the energy-saving activities.” Fijnheer’s game also included a competitive element. “Participants are more committed to continuing to display the desired behaviour when they’re trying to win a contest.”

Data logger

For his research, Fijnheer selected 21 families with a normal pattern of household energy consumption. The participants gave him permission to install a data logger, which reads and sends him the relevant data. Through the game, the families learned how to perform a number of activities over the course of five weeks last spring. Then, three weeks before the game ended, Fijnheer measured the extent to which the families still performed those activities. Fijnheer: “The data logger enabled me to see exactly when the participant did their laundry.”

Screenshot of the Powersaver Game

Expanding the research

Today, Fijnheer's scientific paper won the Best Paper Award with a total of 37 submissions. In addition to his PhD position at UU, he is also employed as a researcher at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. He enjoys being able to work on a project with practical applications as a PhD candidate. “In the next phase of my research, I’d like to see which game elements have the most influence on helping people conserve energy over the long term.”



Enhancing Energy Conservation by a Household Energy Game

Jan Dirk L. Fijnheer, Herre van Oostendorp and Remco C. Veltkamp

Games and Learning Alliance Conference, Palermo, Italy, 7 December 2018

More information

See the Powersaver Game online. The website also features a report that the BNNVARA programme GroenLicht produced about the game last year, before Jan Dirk Fijnheer began his research.