A better classification of utility-run programmes targeting customer behaviour should facilitate the gauge of their effectiveness in terms of cost savings and reduced energy use. Literature demonstrates that such behavioural measures have an energy savings potential in the range of 5-20%.
Research dives into the factors that influence consumer behaviour and tries to unravel their importance for policy design.
Psycho-social sciences are increasingly involved to improve our understanding of people’s relationship with energy. Maybe even to such an extent that we sometimes forget the indispensable role of energy infrastructure in strengthening consumers’ changed habits.
Increasing energy prices could benefit energy efficiency, that is clear. But it is often considered to hurt the weakest residential consumers as well as energy-intensive industry.
Maybe the sequence of events should be reversed, and energy efficiency should come before raising prices. Once energy end-use becomes more efficient, higher prices are less painful and can pay their contribution to the complex and decarbonised energy system of the future.
That leaves the question open as to how to stimulate energy efficiency without raising prices. The EU has been successful in doing so for the past 25 years, which demonstrates that there must be a way.
If the focus on occupants was seen as a revolution back in 2013, five years later the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is mainstreaming the idea.
The new Directive introduces key provisions to make buildings smart and as such improve indoor comfort for the occupants, guide them towards huge energy savings and support them in taking an active role in today’s energy system. Incentives for automation and control functionalities direct them towards the most cost-effective approach for maintaining performance of heating and air-conditioning systems, with returns nine times higher than investments. It’s a great opportunity to shift the focus of policies from the ‘fabric and services’ to the ‘building in use’. Now it’s time for the Member States to really catch the potential.
It sounded more special than it was, this pool of loans for residential energy efficiency investments, aimed at attracting private capital. The saved energy was not part of the transaction, making them ordinary unsecured consumer loans.
The main difficulty with energy efficiency investments is how to measure the return, i.e. the actual energy savings. A smart metering system that monitors the individual circuits or appliances could be of help, but is not to be expected at residential level soon.
And even then it will remain difficult to differentiate between savings thanks to the energy efficiency investments and casual variations in the consumer behaviour of the residents.
What is the carbon footprint of the internet? The ‘immateriality’ of the internet may be an illusion. Search robots and social media sites are big users of server energy. In 2007, ‘Greening the media’ reported that the energy use of information technology is close to 3% of all energy use, similar to aviation. But how to get away from this? Should we introduce a concept like “internet use efficiency”?
At least, contrary to aviation, computer servers use electricity, an energy carrier that is well on its way to decarbonisation.