One thing we’ve learned over the years is that energy efficiency is all about behaviour. Half of the Energy Saving Trust’s work is about understanding – and influencing – what people do, and why.
So we know that nobody wants the practicalities of life to eat up all their time, and no one wants a lot of disruption (which getting solid-wall insulation, or a heat pump installed, would undoubtedly be). But at the same time nobody wants astronomical energy bills, or a chilly home. So saving energy sounds like common sense to most of us.
But there are always tensions pulling on our behaviour – what we actually do – and pushing on what we’d like to do.
This means that persuading people of the benefits of making a change at home has to appeal to the universal instinct for comfort and simplicity. It also means that there are going to be quite few added incentives thrown in as we go along, to push us along the road to a greener future.
There’s no need to invent a ‘stick’ – it’s hitting us already in the form of rising bills, fuel poverty, colder winters and a new and growing austerity – as over half of us went without at least some heat this winter to combat rising bills. But new research last month showed that our gas consumption is down 17 percent – and credited it to an increase in energy-efficiency measures like insulation and condensing boilers. So something’s working.
But what form will the added incentives take? These ‘carrots’ are very much an ongoing public discussion.
Take Feed-in Tariffs. Since the scheme was introduced last year it’s been hugely popular – thousands of householders who maybe hadn’t even given it a second thought now have solar PV panels on their roofs.
The Renewable Heat Incentive is also on the way – we expect the announcement soon – with feverish activity going on in the background to ensure that people installing technologies like solar hot water, heat pumps and biomass boilers are paid a fair rate.
But if we’re going, as a nation, to hit our carbon reduction targets, this pushing and pulling needs to reach deep into communities all around the UK. Last week the wind power industry announced that they’ll pay a thousand pounds for every megawatt generated into community benefit funds – surely that’s a carrot.
The Government has stepped in with another carrot: communities that host a wind farm are going to be able to keep the business rates paid by onshore wind farms in England. This will be (mixing our metaphors) music to stretched local council ears.
So we’re making progress. We just need to reach that critical carrot mass to pull us through the fossil-fuel swamp, and keep us going into a new, lush, green economy.
We’re publishing a report very soon that looks at ways of gradually nudging households towards energy efficiency. It has to happen. So, while we hope the future will be green, we hope maybe the immediate future is partly orange…