What factors influence people’s energy use, and how can we ensure that the transition to low-carbon energy is driven by citizens?
These were the questions at the heart of the ENABLE.EU transition practice workshop, which took place on 29-30 November in Rome. Sixty citizens from eleven European countries came to the workshop to discuss their current energy practices and their ideas for the future on prosumption, mobility, heating & cooling and energy efficiency.
“The energy change and energy efficiency in general have to be a more visible priority for decision makers. They need to show us specific actions we can implement as normal families, daily choices that we can make.” – Participant from Norway
The workshop opened with an explanation of the objectives of the project and the Energy Union – to understand and improve energy policy and to move away from an economy of fossil fuels. To do so, and to facilitate the transition to low carbon, we need to empower consumers to make better-informed choices, not only in transportation, heating & cooling and electricity, but also in terms of what they eat, what products they use, even the way they dress – choices that tend to be less visible in terms of their energy cost. But what influences these choices? Drawing on insights from economics, psychology and anthropology, four factors have been defined as important determinants for energy use: skills and knowledge; attitudes and norms; beliefs, values and identities; and material conditions.
The participants were divided into workshops on prosumtion, energy efficiency, heating & cooling and mobility, where they discussed their current energy needs and their sustainable energy practices. Some prosuming practices mentioned were smart meters, shifting appliance loads by using timers, heat pumps, insulation, and transforming parking spaces into gardens. Those in the energy efficiency workshop talked about using electricity for heating at night when prices are cheaper, repairing appliances instead of getting new ones, and using car sharing, biking and walking instead of private cars. They noted that material conditions, such as owning your own house, determine whether people adopt these practices, and that people tend to focus on big changes, such as putting up insulation, rather than small things such as unplugging the phone charger. The heating & cooling workshop also came up with a number of sustainable practices, such as wearing blankets, clothes, and warm socks rather than turning up the heat, designing buildings with insulation and/or triple-glazed windows, reducing the size of dwellings, sharing heating systems, living in co-housing, recycling heat, and installing smart systems and devices that can adjust the temperature according to the weather. Finally, the mobility workshop mentioned using public transport – trains, subways, trams and electric busses – as well as more active modes, such as walking or cycling. Electric cars and car sharing are also ways to lower the impact of our mobility on the environment.
“We need new labeling for home appliances that will take into account their impact, and we need to get companies to stop making products that will become obsolete. If policy makers could mandate longer warranties, they might be inclined to build longer lasting products.” – Participant from Spain
The next day, participants worked in groups to brainstorm future practices that could change how they use energy. They then came up with a number of ways that policy makers, decision takers and politicians could facilitate these changes. Some of the ideas they had for policy makers were to provide more information as well as examples of sustainable practices, to ask and listen to citizens, possibly by holding workshops like the ENABLE.EU one, to provide financial incentives, such as tax breaks or subsidies, for energy-saving and prosuming practices, to implement regulations that would encourage the sustainable use and re-use of products, like longer warranties and the elimination of planned obsolescence, and to build infrastructure, such as bike paths, that would make it easier for people to pursue sustainable practices.
Overall, it was a fun couple of days that gave invaluable input on what households across Europe truly need in order to make the successful transition to low carbon.