Blog from Catrin Maby – And/and, not either/or: reflections on the eceee summer study

I have just returned from the excellent and thought provoking eceee summer study. Impressed with the range of the discussions, it struck me that this is in fact key to the theme of achieving an energy efficient economy. It’s a matter of doing all of it, not pitting solutions against each other.

A case in point is the need to match the increased energy efficiency of buildings with adjustments in occupant behaviour: in her presentation, Kirsten Gram Hanssen showed us data for the Danish building stock, indicating little change in energy consumption in spite of the improvements in energy performance. Her interpretation of this phenomenon is that rebound is matched by ‘prebound’, with the occupants of energy efficient buildings becoming more profligate in their energy use, and those in inefficient ones adapting by using less. It seems it may be more about just getting used to the comfort conditions, rather than an intentioned value shift. You know you can’t get your old house evenly warm, so you wrap up a bit, while in your high efficiency house you might get used to lounging in shorts.….none of which negates the importance of building energy efficiency, Gram-Hanssen was swift to emphasise, simply that we ALSO need to adjust behaviour.

This was reflected in the discussions around ‘sufficiency’, a loose explanation of which could be accepting just having enough (warmth, cooling, floor space and so on), rather than shifting with increasing prosperity towards higher and higher consumption. And having mentioned prosperity, a highlight of the week was the plenary with Tim Jackson talking about prosperity without growth (new book launched), coupled with a vision for a society where work is seen as a social good, not just a financial necessity.

The need for a more holistic approach was also highlighted in the panel on local action, where Erwin Mlecnik of the Delft University of Technology told us about the need for entrepreneurs to link up to provide a more comprehensive building retrofit offer to the consumer, and Gavin Killip of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute talked about the potentially influential role of the building trades in identifying and promoting opportunities for energy improvements, when delivering services to homeowners. My own presentation, on behalf of the Energy Advice Exchange, complemented these perspectives by setting out the role that energy advisory services can play in supporting home-owners along the journey to deep retrofit, combining technical, practical, financial and behavioural advice – and supporting energy services and contractors by directing (pre-informed and warmed-up) customers to their services.

This holistic view of energy advisory services was endorsed by presentations about less successful approaches, such as the Norwegian housing developers, who (having identified new occupancy as a trigger point for habit forming), delivered advice in the form of a technical manual and a single advice visit from a technician.

The holistic theme continued with the depiction by Ruth Mourik of Duneworks of the evolution of the successful entrepreneur from one that just sells a product, to a product with added value, and ultimately maturing into being the provider of a service, which happens to include products.

There was, of course, much, much more at eceee 2017….but I took away a reminder that it’s not either/or when it comes to achieving low carbon – it’s all of it that is needed. All the best of the low carbon technologies, with a seismic shift in consumer behaviour on top. More action, a comprehensive and holistic approach = less carbon. To paraphrase Tim Jackson, why use money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know….. wasn’t Socrates reported to have had something to say about that ‘all these things I neither want nor need’ or words to that effect?

Catrin Maby is a member of the Energy Advice Exchange []


One thought on “Blog from Catrin Maby – And/and, not either/or: reflections on the eceee summer study

  1. Reverse fuel tariffs (with suitable protections for vulnerable consumers) would be one way to reward sufficiency AND encourage supportive “adjustments in occupant behaviour”. Around ten years ago there was a sense of collective purpose pushing both these topics, top down, viz the 2008 Fuel Poverty Charter and 2009 government campaign ‘Act on CO2’. Now the pressure seems to be more bottom up, yet the government struggles to reconcile public concern about climate change with free market dogma. Meanwhile, the Arctic sea ice death spiral continues.

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