Energy efficiency – a people’s revolution?

If I told you that you could make an investment that yielded long term, guaranteed monthly returns – greater than a savings account and more secure than stocks and shares – with no upfront costs, as well as adding additional value to your home, you’d bite my hand off right?

cied launch

Energy efficiency improvements under the UK’s Green Deal policy offer this type of potential, with the scheme tipped as the trigger to ‘a third industrial revolution’. However by the end of 2013 only 12 homes had installed Green Deal improvements, with no such revolution materialising.

So if the Green Deal isn’t the answer, what is needed for the UK to achieve an energy efficiency revolution? This was the topic of the Centre for Innovation and Energy Demand’s (CIED) launch event, which untied in discussion a panel of 5 heavy hitting speakers alongside a room of 90 professionals from across the industry in the impressive surroundings of Portcullis House, Parliament.

Introductory comments from Dr Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton, highlighted the increasingly urgent need for energy efficiency to assist in making a meaningful dent in the UK’s climate change commitments. This would require significant step changes in efficiency gains by 2030- is the sector up to meeting this challenge?

Steven Sorrell, Director of CIED opened proceedings, exploring the need for energy efficiency policy to move beyond solely considering economic barriers to efficiency improvements. In acknowledging barriers relating to engineering and behaviour then approaches can move beyond a technological focus, allowing for reassessment of the physical and social systems in which current technologies are embedded. Developing this wider understanding of energy efficiency is a key aim of CIED- a five year research programme exploring the emergence, diffusion and impact of low energy innovations.

Professor Frank Geels, chairman of the International Sustainability Transitions Research Network, further expressed the need for such a holistic approach, identifying that present efficiency improvements operate within the restrictions of existing infrastructure. Systemic change to heating and transport systems, as well as the recognition of linkages between household heating, cooling and lighting systems, will facilitate the engineering of new solutions for improved efficiency. Policy mechanisms should also look beyond focusing on individual households and firms to best facilitate a greater number of entry points to energy efficiency- whether as community projects, room-by- room or micro generation opportunities.

Clive Maxwell, Director General of Consumers and Households at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), expressed that whilst these areas remaining addressed, progress has been made – the UK’s is the least energy intensive country of the G8 and energy use has experienced an 8% reduction in the last year. The current under-valuing of energy efficiency will begin to be addressed through the introduction of smart meters, which every home will possess by 2020, and the newly introduced Green Deal Home Improvement Fund that will make it even more attractive for households to go ahead with disruptive procedures.

Despite this new boost from DECC, it was generally acknowledged by the panel that rational and emotional drivers behind energy efficiency improvements continue to go unaddressed. As described by David Hall, Founder of Behavior Change, poor energy efficiency is ‘not like a broken window that stares at you’ but rather is hidden from view and easily forgotten. If efficiency improvements can be combined with other renovations involving trusted local builders then consumers are 66% more likely to consider efficiency improvements- flagging a currently untapped market that the Green Deal could effectively utilise.

Lack of customer urgency around efficiency is compounded by a strengthening narrative around the inability of bill payers to do anything about rising energy bills, with 63% of the public feeling powerless in the backdrop of high level parliamentary debate around increasing global energy prices. Andy Deacon, Director of Local Delivery for the Energy Savings Trust, discussed that the oversaturation of information on fracking, micro-renewables and efficiency has served to pile on further confusion in regards to understanding and taking control of energy efficiency improvements, with clear, reliable information and marketing required to demystify the peoples options.

As the event drew to a close the points I found myself taking away were around social perceptions of energy efficiency and the impact of this on behaviour. This was discussed at a macro level in relation to systemic social change right down to the need to provide individuals with tailored advice and access to knowledgeable local building companies. Whilst current Green Deal policy has been successful in removing the barrier of upfront cost, energy efficiency now needs to be reintroduced to consumers in a way that personal and wider benefits become visible. There will be no energy efficiency revolution until people are empowered to lead it.


AAnna Watsonnna Watson is presently researching the effectiveness of regional implementation of Green Deal policy as part of her Masters in Environment, Development and Policy. She is social media strategist for the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex and volunteers as a social marketer for Aptivate. Follow her on Twitter @AnnaHolliday

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