Can we save energy by changing our behaviour?

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Can we save energy by changing our behaviour?

European Environment Agency (EEA)

In 2010, European households consumed almost 13% more energy than two decades ago and generated 25 % of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This trend must be reversed for the EU to reach its goal of reducing primary energy consumption by 20 % by 2020. Today, the European Environment Agency (EEA) publishes a report which investigates what it takes to achieve energy savings through changing consumer behaviour and launches an online survey to know more about society's views on the topic.

Energy efficiency Image © Anca-Diana Barbu

The EEA report, Achieving energy efficiency through behaviour change: what does it take? reviews recent studies on behaviour change and energy use. It shows that up to 20% of the energy we currently consume can be saved through changing behaviour:

  • If energy efficiency policies are designed to take into account the fact that many factors influence consumer behaviour such as technological development, general economic situation, age, social norms, belief systems, cultural traits and market strategies. Therefore the focus should be placed on consumption practices and how they take hold in society involving a wide range of actors;
  • If the ways of providing feedback on energy consumption are improved. Without an adequate frame of reference, consumers cannot know whether their consumption is excessive or not;
  • If we are mindful of the fact that energy infrastructure plays an active role in determining what people consider “normal” from the energy consumption point of view. The cars we drive, the buildings we live in, the way the energy services are delivered to us, all influence the way we think about energy;
  • If the current business model for energy industries is changed to allow the consumer to actively engage with the energy market. For instance, more flexible energy tariffs could help to capture the full benefits of real-time information smart meters can provide. But not all consumers will respond in the same way to such changes.

A certain rebound effect might occur when implementing energy efficiency policies but it is unlikely to be sufficiently high to outweigh the benefits of these policies. In addition, energy efficiency policies have multiple benefits in terms of employment, health and competitiveness that should be considered as well.  

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