Domestic use of energy in the spotlight

April 2nd, 2015, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize, Articles: Vector


This year’s Domestic Use of Energy (DUE) Conference brought together behavioral experts, engineers and other energy specialists to address and promote energy efficiency. The conference, which took place from 30 March to 1 April 2015 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, was themed “Towards sustainable energy solutions for the developing world”.

Benoit Lebot, from the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC), was among the first speakers who explained the importance of energy efficiency in limiting the concentration of CO2 emissions and keeping them below the 450 parts per million or the 2°C climate change scenario while energy demand is increasing globally.

There are four ways to reduce the carbon trend: behaviour change, energy efficiency, renewable energy and improving carbon sinks (e.g. by planting forests). Of all these methods, energy efficiency is not only the most practical way to “save the world”, but also the one with the most impact because all sectors and regions have the potential to contribute to energy efficiency.

Benefits of energy efficiency extend beyond a lower energy bill, to a reduced energy footprint, less pollution and a generally healthier life. To achieve energy efficiency globally, however, Lebot said a favourable global policy context for energy is needed, and this requires international collaboration between countries, businesses and many other stakeholders.

Prof. Nico Beute, Ike Ndlovu, Nicole Kearney, Benoit Lebot and Maphuti Legodi.

Prof. Nico Beute, Ike Ndlovu, Nicole Kearney, Benoit Lebot and Maphuti Legodi.

Global standards and labeling programmes are some of the easiest and most efficient ways to promote energy saving, said Nicole Kearney from CLASP, a non-profit advisor in local policy making. Standards push to remove inefficient products from the market, while labels pull users (and therefore the market) to better efficiency and to increase the sales of efficient products. The two methods work best when used together.

One example of these standards are minimum energy performance standards (MEPS). MEPS have the advantages of predictive outcomes, they are are easy to revise, and are designed to maximise user benefit. Disadvantages to MEPS are that they require enforcement to work, and because MEPS usually come in the form of a mandatory programme, they require debate among many stakeholders – a laborious process. Labels, on the other hand, provide market incentive and are less compulsory. But it is difficult to change a labeling scheme, and the impact of a labeling programme is less predictable and more difficult to evaluate. Despite this difficulty, energy labels do, however, need to be revised over time to keep them updated and relevant to technology and capability markers.

Maphuti Legodi from the Department of Energy looked at some of the standards and programmes in place in South Africa that are aimed at promoting energy efficiency. Legislatively, there’s SA’s Energy Roadmap (1998 White Paper on Energy Policy, 2005 Natural Energy Efficiency Strategy, and 2008 Energy Act). Legodi also mentioned that an energy efficiency tax incentive regulation is to be implemented this year. He mentioned that, from a variety of sectors that form part of SA’s greenhouse gas reduction target project, the residential sector has been the hardest to reach, even with the phasing out of incandescent lamps and lighting standards in place. The department is now looking at support and incentive programmes.

Dr. Ruth Mourik, Rob Kool and Dr. Sea Rotmann.

Dr. Ruth Mourik, Rob Kool and Dr. Sea Rotmann.

Standards and labels are not always the best way to achieve energy efficiency, and usually come at political risks for politicians who have to sign these into implementation. Changing users’ energy behaviour goes much further as it involves voluntary rather than mandatory change, but is vastly misunderstood, according to the International Energy Agency Demand Side Management’s Dr. Sea Rotmann. She explained that 95% of energy behaviour is habitual rather than logical, as is often assumed. Understanding consumer behaviour, Dr. Rotmann said, will also help in designing labels and policies that are more relevant to users.

DuneWorks’ Dr. Ruth Mourik went as far as saying that energy efficiency is experiencing a “midlife crisis”, as energy efficiency does not appeal as relevant to users and is lost in technical jargon on labels. A case study into the effectiveness of a residential energy efficiency behaviour change programme in SA by Dr. Mathilda du Preez, from EnviroPsych Research, also showed that the ecological appeal is lost as individuals don’t feel there is something they can do to change the situation. Besides finding that there is much misinformation about energy efficiency interventions among users, the study also found that users “don’t want information if they don’t have a question”.

Before business models for energy efficiency are developed form an in-depth understanding of users as a starting point rather than forcing business models’ assumptions onto users, nothing will change, said Dr. Mourik. She also explained that energy behaviour has a local and international context, an important consideration when developing policies.

There is still debate about evaluation models for behaviour change theories, not to mention who should be responsible to conduct and fund such behaviour studies. In one country, a utility funded behaviour studies to understand its users as the utility had a direct interest in planning its grid – an expensive cost to front when the public looks forward to an off-grid future out of which the utility can lock itself.

The effective incorporation of energy behaviour into energy efficiency policies remains to be seen in South Africa, and lunchtime table talk discussions centered on how the aspirations of coal stove buyers are misunderstood, on how energy efficiency policy does not consider budget constraints which often favours old infrastructure over new installations, and on what the capacity of behaviour change really is.

Most of the organisations mentioned represented at the DUE Conference have free resources and reports available on their websites.

Photos from the event can be viewed here.



Footnotes and Resources

1: IPEEC – The International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation an autonomous international forum that provides global leadership on energy efficiency by facilitating government implementation of policies and programs to yield energy efficient gains.

2: CLASP connects appliance policy, technical, and market experts to advance solutions that improve the environment and mitigate climate change.

3: IEA DSM – The International Energy Agency Demand-Side Management Programme is an international collaboration of 16 countries working together to develop and promote opportunities for demand-side management (DSM). The organisation’s “General report: Tool for decision makers” is made available for free download.

4: DuneWorks is a research and advice firm which combines a diverse range of disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, technology studies, political science, urban planning & social geography, transition and innovation studies) to focus on social issues concerning sustainability and sustainable innovations.

5: EnviroPsych Research is a SME in Pretoria, South Africa, that looks to understanding the interaction between people and their environment by means of research.

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