Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 15 Jul 2016

These questions need an answer

It was most welcome that the recent EU Sustainable Energy Week gave a focus to the consumer, after all it is not bureaucrats who save energy, rather it is the actions of every single consumer that saves energy. The theme of EUSEW was “on the power of the consumer to accelerate Europe’s transition to a clean, secure and efficient energy system.” The EUSEW website said that the theme rested on three elements: shared investment; citizen engagement; and innovative markets and finance. The EU is giving priority to the renovation of its existing buildings but is the consumer at the centre of the strategy?

What, indeed, does it mean to put the consumer first? What does it take for the consumer to make that commitment to undertake a deep renovation? And, importantly, what can roadblock a consumer from undertaking such an ambitious renovation?

Looking at Europe’s existing policies – within the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive there is the Energy Performance Certificate, which certainly has some benefit in helping the consumer understand the state of their building’s energy performance but gives only the most basic indication of how to make improvements. Does the EPC motivate sufficiently? Does it enable?

The Energy Efficiency Directive contains some areas of support. First, there is the promotion of metering that, if done properly, may encourage changes in consumer behaviour but is hardly likely to motivate someone to undertake a deep renovation.  The same holds true for billing information. Article 12 on consumer information and empowering simply talks about a range of instruments. There is “information provision” as one of those instruments but no detail about what that is or should be. Importantly, Article 17 states that member states “shall establish appropriate conditions for market operators to provide adequate and targeted information and advice to energy consumers on energy efficiency.” That’s great but should it only be left to market operators? Do we have strong evidence that market operators are the most effective sole providers of this information?

I want to give an example from my own experience about the importance of truly putting consumers at the centre of any ambitious renovation strategy:

I have a cottage in Normandy that is over 200 years old. A few years ago, it was in desperate need of renovation and I asked the two builders in our village for their proposal for an upgrade.  They came up with totally different technical options and I was effectively paralysed because I had no idea which option was better for me. Luckily, I worked regularly with Jens Laustsen, who is an architect and now coordinator for the EPBD Concerted Actions.  Jens and I sat down and reviewed the options and also enquired into how and when I used the building. After a short review he said that one made much more sense than the other, even though both would have achieved good savings.

What would I have done without that advice?  Guess.

There is a need to empower the consumer. Policy initiatives to ensure there is adequate financing are incredibly valuable and building certificates of labels are useful to raise awareness but deep renovations are complicated and long-term commitments. Our policy measures need to be written much more consciously with the consumer at the centre, and from the starting point of the consumer, to focus on what effectively motivates those who actually save the energy.

I am part of a new informal group creating what we call the Energy Advice Exchange.  It is our contention that, from recent work we have undertaken, the evidence on the role and effectiveness of advisory services is limited and there is much more that we need to understand. While practitioners and many policy makers understand that there is an important – if not crucial – communications role, its unique and essential contribution is not fully recognised. Communication strategies increase consumer overall awareness of the importance of undertaking energy efficiency measures, as well as explaining about programme and financial support, increasing understanding of technical aspects of energy efficiency and building capacity within the energy efficiency service industry (suppliers, installers, etc.).

There has to be a greater realisation of the role of communications that are more consumer-oriented as we start to revise our energy efficiency directives, in large part to meet the challenge of the Paris climate agreement.


Other columns by Rod Janssen

Oct 2016

Apr 2016

Nov 2011