Changed norms of comfort in different energy cultures: The case of heat pumps

Panel: 8. Dynamics of consumption

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Nina Heidenström, National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Norway
Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, The Danish Building Research Institute, Denmark
Pål Strandbakken, National Institute for Consumer Research, Norway
Toke Haunstrup Christensen, The Danish Building Research Institute, Denmark


From socio-technical research it is well documented that social norms change with the development in technological structures. It is also recognised that there are different energy cultures in different countries, depending on energy supply structure, building traditions and other aspects of the energy consumption-production infrastructure. In this paper these two approaches will be brought together in a discussion of how the introduction of a new energy efficient technology, the heat pump, might influence social norms of comfort in different energy cultural contexts. A previous Danish study on heat pumps showed that 20% of the expected energy saving from substituting direct electric heating with heat pumps was not realised in practice. In Norway, research shows that only 58% of households report saving electricity by using a heat pump. In both cases the surplus energy is used to increase indoor comfort.The growing popularity of heat pumps might be seen as a result of these changes; it is a feasible measure that has the potential of increasing the comfort level for the same amount of kWh. These results point towards similar trends in the two countries regarding comfort norms induced by the introduction of heat pumps. However, there is expected to be considerable differences in the Norwegian and Danish energy cultures. They will be compared with regards to energy consumption patterns, energy production systems, and major differences in energy culture and tradition. This is used in a discussion of how different energy cultures might affect the way the introduction of heat pumps can be expected to influence changes in norms of comfort in the two countries. The paper will draw on practice theoretical understandings of how everyday life habits and routines, comfort and technologies are closely related and interwoven. The discussion may contribute to a better understanding of energy practices, and serve as a base for future policy instruments on sustainable consumption.


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