Smart consumers for smart renovations – wishful thinking?

I cannot stop thinking about a recent article entitled Fighting Climate Change? We’re Not Even Landing a Punch in the New York Times by Eduardo Porter. He is quite emphatic that we simply are not doing enough. He states “But what definitely won’t suffice is a climate strategy built out of wishful thinking: the proposition that countries can be cajoled and prodded into increasing their ambition to cut emissions further, and that laggards can be named and shamed into falling into line.”

In the European Union, we are putting the final touches to the so-called Clean Energy Package, proposed in late 2016 by the European Commission. There are some revisions to the 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive and the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive. There is also a new governance directive.

Early last month, the European Parliament adopted a binding 2030 energy savings target of 35%, more ambitious than the 30% proposal from the European Commission but less than what a Parliamentary committee had earlier recommended. Many were disappointed that Parliament did not have the leadership to adopt an ambitious 40% target, which many analysts have shown is feasible, doable and essentially necessary for us to meet our long-term obligations. We have to remember that the previous target was 27% and was non-binding. No doubt there is increased realisation that energy efficiency can be more ambitious than in the past. Now the EU institutions must come up with a final decision. The concern is that it will end up being a less ambitious target.

I come back to Porter’s worry about wishful thinking. We have so many good intentions and, as I said, we read about them all the time. But the actions underway are simply not adding up enough to significantly have us meet our 2015 Paris climate obligations. And when we look at the lack of ambition in revising the package of sustainable energy directives, it is worrying. It is certainly not landing the punch suggested by Eduardo Porter.

One of the areas of particular concern relates to improving the energy performance of our building stock where many analysts have identified significant potential. Yes, there are some modifications in the directives but nothing that lands a punch.

Let’s start with basics. As part of the Energy Advice Exchange, I worry about this from the perspective of the consumer. It is the consumer who needs to be empowered and put at the heart of the strategy. As my colleague, Louise Sunderland, wrote last year, “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.”

Louise went on: “We need to get more creative. We need ideas that deliver robust solutions to address what is probably the single greatest challenge to raising the renovation rate. An end to end service to help consumers – be they homeowners, SMEs, building managers – to which consumers can turn when armed with their Building Renovation Passport, or when inspired by the mass market communications flooding their airwaves to start the process of figuring out how to actually go about achieving that warm, healthy, affordable, more valuable building on a budget they can afford.”

I’m afraid I don’t see that creativity in the planned policies. Policymakers, lobbyists and advocates are not the ones who save energy. It is the actions of millions of consumers who do.

Do consumers see their actions in the context of our overall challenge to address climate change? Probably not. Are they sufficiently motivated and empowered to take action? It’s not obvious that they are.

While we have had energy efficiency policies and programmes since the oil crises of the 1970s, we still are only scratching the surface of properly empowering the consumer. In recent years the path was to look at innovative financing (whatever that really means in the context of consumers) and the Commission’s recent response is to come up with Smart Financing for Smart Buildings. To me, the path should be smart consumers for smart renovations. And here, energy advisory services put consumers in the driver’s seat.

We have to get past wishful thinking and be serious about the effective steps forward. Eduardo Porter’s right.


2 thoughts on “Smart consumers for smart renovations – wishful thinking?

  1. Dear Rod – Thank you for your insightful article – ON5 Group has been successfully developping the type of solutions that Louise Sunderland mentions in his article – and very successfully now engaging in France and now the UK 100,000 energy consumers per year to save energy – see – we met in Paris last year and would love to explain to Louise and yourself how ON5 solutions work!
    Kind regards Anne-France Kennedy ON5 UK Director

    1. Dear Anne-France, Thanks for the kind words and comments. I do remember meeting in Paris. I will definitely pass on to Louise your comment. I look forward to you explaining how ON5 solutions work.

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