A few weeks ago, a news item on the Energy Live News website in the UK raised the issue of cost as the reason why consumers were not investing in energy efficiency. That’s fair, as a starting point. We are always told how expensive energy-efficient technologies or energy renovations are, whether it is true or not.
Yet, at the same time consumers are complaining that their energy bills are too high. The Citizens Advice website gives several suggestions if one feels their energy bill is too high: your bill could have been estimated, you may have changed the amount of energy you used, there may be a mistake with your meter reading, you’ve been billed for the wrong meter, your energy meter could be faulty and your supplier has changed its prices. Those are legitimate concerns but they only go part way, missing the simple fact that your home or appliances may just be inefficient.
The Energy Live News article gives a clue to another absolutely key reason why consumers are not investing in energy efficiency. There is a quote from Maria Wardrobe, Director of Communications at National Energy Action: “Given that 70% of survey respondents have never sought advice on how to save energy at home, it’s important that we continue to help consumers to make the right choices.” She said that awareness of energy efficiency has increased in recent years but that more education was needed to “empower more British consumers.”
This is exactly the point that the Energy Advice Exchange has been making. The EAE has been providing commentary during the approval process of the European Commission’s clean energy package and has argued the importance of personalised energy advice to “empower consumers.” This is not some abstract concept. There are many good examples throughout Europe, and the UK has experimented over the years with some excellent examples as well.
The EAE has argued that consumers need a personalised combination of specialist advice which may include technical, financial, legal, practical and behavioural advice (and advice here is a two-way engagement, not one way information provision). They also need practical assistance and local connections to get the works completed and to monitor and realise the desired results.
Now we need to understand why 70% did not seek advice. We need to know more about the quantity and the quality of advice that is available. We need to know whether the advice provided was first tested with consumer groups to get feedback.
Energy efficiency is often considered a technical field. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a human dimension that is fundamental for us to meet our long term Paris climate objectives. There is a human dimension for us to be comfortable in our homes at a cost that is more affordable.
There is a need for our policies and programmes to be more consumer-oriented, regardless of how they are explained. When 70% of us have not even sought advice, alarm bells should ring. But they are not and we must change that.
We also must not keep repeating the mantra about costs being too high and so we do nothing. That is no excuse.
Catrin Maby, Louise Sunderland and Rod Janssen are members of the Energy Advice Exchange. For more information, go to our webpage.