Achieving energy efficiency through behaviour change: what does it take?

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

On October 2012, the European Union adopted the Energy Efficiency Directive in reaction to the fact that EU Member States were not on track to reduce primary energy consumption by 20 % by 2020. The implementation of this directive, and other policies that have been adopted in recent years, will require a change in consumer behaviour and energy consumption practices.

Within this context, and related to on-going debates on the same subject, a new European Environment Agency (EEA) report argues that correctly navigating the interface between policymaking and human behaviour is key to achieving sustained reductions in energy consumption. As such, the report provides timely and reliable information and analysis to those involved in designing policy measures to reduce energy consumption which target the end consumer.

A growing body of evidence in academic literature demonstrates that there is potential for energy savings due to measures targeting behaviour as shown in Table ES.1.

There is, however, one issue that has not been covered by previous studies, and which the EEA report directly addresses, namely the distinction between consumer behaviour and consumption practices. Most recent academic literature argues that it is the consumption practices themselves that need careful scrutiny as they tend to lock consumers into patterns that are more and more energy intensive and they involve a wide range of actors. From the energy efficiency policy design perspective, this is relevant because these actors need to be involved from the outset of the policy process.

The report also argues that a whole range of changes need to take place in the way energy markets function and are regulated in order to enable the consumer to actively engage with these markets. The report however does not include a discussion on the socio-economic implications of these structural changes. During 2013, the EEA will launch a survey via social media and its own website to follow up on conclusions of the report. The aim will be to receive society's views on the issues raised.

This EEA report provides a review of available literature on measures targeting consumer behaviour in order to achieve energy savings.

The report focuses on:

  • Energy efficiency measures and behaviour change;
  • Structural factors — such as the impact of liberalisation and the energy mix and energy tariff structures;
  • The rebound effect.

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