‘Deep-seated’ behaviour changes needed to bring savings

Meeting the requirements of the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive, as well as other associated EU measures designed to deliver energy saving, will require deep-seated changes in consumer behavior and energy consumption practices, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency.

The Agency, which is the official advisory body to the European Union, emphasises that technological developments, the general economic situation, age, social norms, belief and cultural systems and marketing strategies all influence consumption patterns. And these alter in relative importance over time.

One major finding is that, rather than trying to influence individual consumer behaviour, there should be far more emphasis placed by policy makers upon on how overall societal consumption patterns take hold and alter.

The report points out that consumers need an appropriate frame of reference to judge if their energy use is profligate. Lasting impact can only come via “meaningful, clearly communicated and continual feedback.”

It finds targeting behavioural change by combining measures can yield savings of up to 20 per cent. Direct feedback to consumers via informative smart meters can deliver savings of around 5 per cent, while indirect feedback such as enhanced billing is rarely capable of more than marginal change. However combinations of measures greatly enhance receptivity, especially if detailed energy audits and community based initiatives are incorporated.

The Agency’s key conclusion is that many policymakers “seem focused more on the instrument itself, rather than on the behaviours and consumption patterns that need to be affected. As policies are designed, a wide range of stakeholders needs to be involved.”

It seems that the UK Government is already seeking to take up the Agency’s recommendations. One key requirement of the 2012 Directive is that all medium and large –sized businesses must have a full energy audit of all their activities every four years. These include buildings and transport, as well as manufacturing processes.

A detailed public consultation is due to be launched next month. But for the last nine months, Department of Energy officials have been holding regular informal discussions with a wide range of external interests, under an Expert Advisory Board. The objective seems to be to ensure maximum implementation of the energy saving advice emerging from the audits.

• Speaking at the European Parliament, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: “If there is a shale gas revolution in the US, we should have an energy efficiency revolution in the European Union.”

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