Effectiveness and impacts of community-based action on household energy reduction

Panel: 3. Local action

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Authors:
Rajat Gupta, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom
Laura Barnfield, United Kingdom
Matt Gregg, United Kingdom

Abstract

This paper investigates the effectiveness and impacts of community-led home energy improvements (physical and behavioural) on reducing household energy use within six government-funded low carbon communities (LCCs) in UK, as part of a multi-disciplinary research project. A graduated mixed-methods monitoring and evaluation approach is used including: assessment of aggregated and longitudinal domestic energy data (1,000-5,000 households per community over five years), carbon mapping of approximately 1,800 households before and after community action, longitudinal gas and electricity data of 88 households over 5 years, qualitative surveys and interviews with 88 households; and thermal imaging and physical monitoring of 60 selected dwellings (of the 88 households).

Whilst the aggregated longitudinal energy data and carbon mapping enable an examination of the effectiveness of community-based action, the in-depth case studies provide evidence on the wider impacts of home energy improvements and highlight the complexities and limitations of community energy projects in reducing energy use, and sustaining pro-environmental behaviours. Analysis of long term energy use (2008-2012) shows that there is an overall energy reduction trend in these communities, with gas use decreasing significantly in communities where a primary focus was on demand reduction, through physical measures combined with energy management workshops. Interestingly LCCs with a focus on electricity generation (solar PVs) have also seen a higher than national average reduction in electricity use. Yet the household level occupant interviews highlight that whilst the majority are sustaining positive energy behaviours, influential and dominating factors such as cost, lifestyle, health and comfort can impede further change, particularly in relation to one-off purchasing behaviours and heating-related habitual behaviours. Despite this, the LCCs appear to play an important role in increasing individual agency, dispelling myths and mixed messages surrounding ‘new’ technologies, and providing much needed space for dialogue around demand reduction and local energy generation.

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