Europe is building its clean energy future. European companies deploy new technologies, policy makers adopt a new legal framework, and economic incentives are changing. It is now time to see how people’s energy behaviours shape this energy transition. On Thursday, 26 September, the ENABLE.EU team convened in Brussels to present the main findings of its research over the last three years and to discuss with companies, civil society organisations and policy-makers the implications of these findings for the energy transition in Europe. 100 people joined the event throughout the day to explore energy behaviours.
The day started with a presentation by Thomas Pellerin-Carlin (Jacques Delors Institute, France) of the challenges that the energy transition brings. Starting with a historical perspective, Thomas highlighted the large scope of required system change: from technologies, infrastructures, economic incentives to social norms and habits.
“If we want to tackle climate change, we need to do much more. We need to change the way we move, the way we live and the way we produce” – Thomas Pellerin-Carlin
The ENABLE.EU project is precisely there to address these required changes and understand the key drivers of individual and collective energy choices. Stefano Proietti (ISINNOVA, Italy) presented the key aspects of what kept us busy for three years in eleven European countries. To get a glimpse of some research features and main recommendations that came out of ENABLE.EU, you can watch a short video and browse through this website.
Why did we research energy choices? Understanding how individuals, households, communities and companies make decisions related to energy helps identify the best policy tools to encourage more sustainable choices. Decision-makers need to ensure that all policies are articulated to foster change in the all dimensions of the system. As Jean-Arnold Vinois (Jacques Delors Institute) highlighted, the European Commission put the consumer at the centre of the energy system and “over the last five years, there has been an alignment between regulatory aspects, the initiatives taken by different players and financial support at EU level” to support the energy transition. We are thus going in the right direction by joining forces and various resources but efforts should be pursued to make the energy transition faster with European citizens on board.
“The Energy Union has put the consumer at the centre of the energy system” – Jean-Arnold Vinois
We therefore analysed main drivers of choices and behaviours in several sectors:
- At the governance level, we presented examples of challenges encountered in nine European countries, discussing in particular Serbia, Hungary, Norway and France. Ruslan Stefanov, Martin Vladimirov (Centre for the Study of Democracy, Bulgaria), Sanja Filipovic (Economics Institute, Serbia), Karina Standal (CICERO, Norway) and Emilie Magdalinski (Jacques Delors Institute) highlighted several similarities between those countries and raised the importance of European policy in this area. More than half of participants agreed in a poll that the lack of adequate policy implementation on national or regional level is one of the three main governance barriers to energy transitions in Europe, followed by affordability issues, insufficient incentives to change behaviours and the frequent “stop-and-go” approach in policy.
- We also looked at how companies react to energy transition policies through research led in France and Germany, as presented by Arlan Brucal (LSE, UK), Madeline Werthschulte (University of Munster, Germany) and Ingmar Jürgens (DIW, Germany). We discussed the topic with Nicola Rega from the energy-intensive paper industry and Antti Valle from the European Commission.
“We need to act for climate change now. First, by understanding the interactions between individual and collective choices” – Stefano Proietti
- But most research in the ENABLE.EU project was carried out at the household level. When it comes to mobility, Ibon Galarraga and Alessandro Silvestri (Basque Centre for Climate Change, Spain) discussed how households make choices and how car-sharing can contribute to low-carbon mobility. Commuters’ preferences play a significant role in choosing a travel mode, together with socio-demographic and behavioural factors. For car-sharing to be a step towards low-carbon mobility, policies need to encourage behavioural change by focusing on services based on electric vehicles and linked to the public transport offer. Otherwise, commuters might shift from public transport and soft modes to shared cars.
- In terms of electricity consumption, Madeline Werthschulte highlighted how research in Bulgaria, Germany, Serbia and the UK showed limited potential for information provision on its own to reduce consumption. Discussion with Roberto Zangrandi (E.DSO) and Monika de Volder (BEUC) pointed to the real-life implications of such findings. As Monika pointed out, how are households supposed to pay attention to their energy bills considering they have about 30 subscriptions they have to take care of? Since a household has an average of 20 minutes a day to spend on all of its contracts, the information must be clear and engaging. A better use of smart meters as well as direct billing are two potential tools to simplify consumers’ electricity bills.
Information provision tools have a limited impact on reducing citizens’ electricity consumption
- When it comes to heating practices, Maria Csutora (REKK, Hungary), Emilie Magdalinski and Vitalii Martyniuk (Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI, Ukraine) presented a survey and focus groups led in Hungary, France and Ukraine. Their findings show that while household behaviours do matter, the largest improvements can be achieved through deep renovation of energy-inefficient buildings. Adrian Joyce (EuroACE) strongly agreed with this way forward but also stressed the importance of energy sufficiency which is not easy to discuss as it touches upon individual freedom. Marta Garcia (EcoServeis, Spain) insisted on our ‘illiteracy’ in terms of energy consumption and the need to move from simply being ‘consumers’ to active ‘users’ of energy. Marie Claerbout (Engie) brought the perspective of an energy company, showing that they commit to developing new models to make energy efficiency affordable for all.
If we want to improve energy use for heating in Europe, building renovation, energy efficiency and sufficiency are key
- Finally, Karina Standal and Hege Westskog (CICERO) presented research on the shift to becoming prosumers, in this case households who install solar panels for their own use and sell electricity back to the grid. Insightful presentations by Marta Toporek from the H2020 sister project PROSEU and by Victor Khomenko (Solar Town) and Andrij Zinchenko (Prosumers of Ukraine) were complemented by the experience of Melanie and Alun Williams, a couple who became prosumers a few years ago. They all underlined how prosuming brings dynamism into the life of a local community. In Ukraine, it becomes a collective project for Slavutych, a city originally built for the evacuated personnel of the Chernobyl power plant.
And here comes the final session! Bringing all these dimensions together, in the final phase of the project, ENABLE.EU involved citizens and energy experts to explore how each of us can contribute to the energy transition. Carlo Sessa (ISINNOVA) presented ENABLE.EU’s participatory foresight, which got European citizens and experts to reflect on possible ways towards a more sustainable future. A British couple, Melanie and Alun Williams, explained on this occasion how they became involved in more sustainable practices and extended their actions to a larger community back home.
“We want to create a bridge between citizens and policy makers” – Carlo Sessa
Gary Goggins (National University of Ireland Galway) then presented the participatory work of the Horizon 2020 project ENERGISE with its ‘Living Labs Approach’. You can learn more about the project by joining their final conference on 15 October in Barcelona!
Back to ENABLE.EU, we used the scenarios designed by the citizens to model and assess the contribution that households can have in achieving EU climate and energy targets. Stijn Van Hummelen (Cambridge Econometrics) and László Szabó (REKK) showed that ambitious policies to empower citizens can speed up the energy transition, especially in terms of energy efficiency, and bring economic benefits, but additional policy measures are needed in all sectors of the economy to succeed.
We had the pleasure of concluding the conference with a speech by Gerd Schönwälder (DG Research and Innovation, European Commission) on the role that social sciences can play to better shape the energy transition. He also highlighted that all actors in society should be involved in the energy transition: beyond individuals, also firms, schools and all structures of our society.
We don’t only talk about individuals but about firms, schools, and structures to lead the energy transition
With all these fruitful discussions in mind, the ENABLE.EU team will finalise the policy recommendations that came out of the project to continue shaping tools in Europe and beyond, to enable an efficient and timely energy transition.