Panel 1. The dynamics of limiting (energy) consumption

Increasingly voices from the research arena, NGOs and sometimes even policymakers, are stating that there are absolute limits to how much we can consume (both in terms of energy consumption but also how energy use and general consumption are limited), and that a focus on energy sufficiency is needed. There are however also a lot of counter voices stating we will have enough energy to continue as before, if we only apply (much) more energy efficiency and shift to renewables. What both views have in common is that they tend to focus on solutions: They are often rather top-down, often technological or based on energy behaviour change of the end-user, e.g. nudging, and a piecemeal approach, instead of more systemic approaches and or solutions. And potentially also problematic is that they tend to focus on energy consumption patterns alone, and do not take the issue of wider (resource) consumption into account as well.

One consequence of this is that in the meantime, the responsibility for change and responding to the climate change challenge is often unequally put on the energy end users, the demand side, demanding major changes with respect to the role of energy in everyday life and or challenging the level of service or comfort that energy provides. But there are many more issues to tackle with respect to the dynamics of (energy) consumption.

A discussion is needed on what limiting energy consumption entails, how this is related to consumption patterns in general, how much we should or could limit energy consumption, how to do it etc. Who should do it is after all a systemic effort and it is not just the consumer that needs to act and react. So who are the actors that have a role to play in limiting (energy) consumption and changing the dynamics, including all the factors influencing demand and consumption. What is their role? How can we create a more collective and democratic and just approach to systemically changing the dynamics of (energy) consumption to include limits. Can consumers become the drivers of such systemic efforts, and if so, how?

The “Dynamics of limiting (energy) consumption” panel especially welcomes papers on research projects but also explicitly invites think pieces, and multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary or even transdisciplinary approaches addressing the discussion on the need to limit energy ‘use’ in new and innovative ways. This includes new views on how to explore, research, envision, intervene, monitor, evaluate and police energy consumption and its limits.

We welcome contributions from policy, practice and research, including, but not limited to, social sciences and humanities. We explicitly invite contributions from areas not usually associated with energy demand research, such as theology, design studies, urban studies, future studies, and system dynamics.

One issue is that statements such as “we are doomed” can be heard increasingly. This is perhaps understandable in light of the urgency felt with respect to global warming and the feeling that solutions are not tackling the necessary systemic level. But this increasingly disempowers users, and thus prevents change. We need a better understanding of how to empower consumers who would like to change, i.e., limit their (energy) consumption patterns instead of merely changing them, and what to do when limits are administered to consumption and people refuse to comply and find creative ways to continue consuming (such as what happens in some cases around the ban on incandescent light sources).

Another challenge is that we are still in the middle of a debate between academics, but also between academics and policy makers and practitioners on how using one definition versus another affects how we understand limits to energy consumption, and which solutions that follow the definition. Another element of the discussion is focused on behaviour versus structure, or on how to effectively tackle the complex systemic issue.  Even though people are aware of the need to shift energy consumption, e.g. cycle instead of drive a car, there are so many structures forcing us to still chose the car over the bike. We do need to move towards implementing the understanding we already have on structural change.

There is also so much debate between disciplines and sometimes even within disciplines on definitions of energy consumption, use, user, consumer, demand, demand side. But the discussion also needs more focus on understanding what actually drives demand, energy and consumption in general. Demand should not just be taken as a given. We also need more future thinking on what the dynamics of demand and (energy) consumption could look like in the future.

So, while we should be moving full throttle forward we could – and should – take time during the eceee summer study to understand several dynamics issues better, and perhaps even come to a conclusion concerning some of the central questions in the energy research field.

We wish to focus on topics such as:

  • How to explore, research, intervene and police ‘consumption’, ‘demand’, ‘demand side’, ‘use’ ‘user’, ‘limits’ etc.
  • How to untangle the academic discussions on the dynamics of energy use/consumption, and become more meaningful for policy and practice?
  • Understanding and influencing energy use/consumption both on individual and societal level
  • Issues of justice and democracy related to limiting energy use/consumption
  • Communication and or on how to communicate with consumers and citizens and their role in creating the necessary communication and or engagement
  • Empowering of actors around limiting energy use/consumption, including policymakers, media, intermediaries and consumers.
  • System issues related to limiting energy use/consumption

Panel leaders

Erica Löfström, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway.

Erica Löfström holds a PhD in Energy Systems, and is a researcher at the Department of Psychology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). She also holds a 20% position as Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science at the same university. She is a member of the research group Consumption, Environment and Traffic (CET) where she works with developing new research ideas and concepts that are then developed into project proposals.  Her research involves environmental and consumer psychology and innovative design. She specializes in feedback and visualization techniques (eco-visualization) contributing to a more sustainable future Her research shows how creativity, debate and engagement can be stimulated by willfully putting humans out of their comfort zone while addressing pressing challenges in the urban environment (the Nature In Your Face-concept, NIYF). By participatory processes involving end-users, her ambition is to explore how ICT and smart house technology may contribute to solving the threat of climate changes (energy efficiency and -saving et cetera). Currently, she is involved in two EU projects, ECHOES and SMARTEES, where her work is linked to the development of sustainable neighborhoods, technologies and housing solutions through the active involvement of end users in innovation and design processes. She typically uses prototyping and “provotyping” methods in co-designing new technologies and concepts together with end users. 


Ruth Mourik, DuneWorks, the Netherlands

Ruth Mourik aims to contribute to a more sustainable world, in particular a more sustainable energy demand and supply system. A world where end-users are more involved (and sooner) in decisions impacting their lives. This means Ruth works on sustainability projects, open innovation, co-creation, multiple value creation, new business models, changing behaviour, practices and lifestyles, societal acceptance of new technologies.

In 2010 Ruth founded DuneWorks ( Duneworks is private research company. Projects she worked on include projects on energy and behaviour change and new business models for the International Energy Agency Demand Side Management Programme, several FP7 and H2020 projects (UseITsmartly, Nature4Cities, DrBoB, ShapeEnergy), but also more grounded projects with residents, housing corporations, municipalities.

Ruth has Masters in Anthropology, Sociology, and Society and Technology Studies (STS), and holds a PhD in systemic technological and societal transitions. Previous employers include Maastricht University, Eindhoven Technical University and the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN).

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