Highlights of the 2015 ECEEE Summer Study conference

The ECEEE Summer Study is the ‘work hard / play hard’  conference of the energy research world. Set in the beautiful Giens Peninsula on the south coast of France, intense sessions, plenaries and informal meetings co-existed with swimming in the Mediterranean, petanque tournaments and long, delicious lunches and dinners, where local wine (efficiently) fuelled more discussions and networking.

A few of my highlights from this year’s presentations:

  • Sarah Royston had the best use of Prezi I’ve ever seen, contrasting active consumers with dolls in a doll house. She told us about nonstandard energy efficiency practices in the home, some of which might be long-standing traditional heating or insulation measures, and some which are new home-made innovations.
  • Tim Chatterton looked at possible correlations between household electricity, gas and car usage. He suggested that if we recognise the importance of ‘fuel poverty’, we might want to think about the opposite cluster, those with behaviour we might call ‘energy decadence’.
  • Jillian Anable introduced us to ‘flexi-mobility’, challenging the received wisdom that travel patterns are entirely stable and habit driven. Instead, she showed that many of us have at least occasional variations of modes of travel, even in our regular commuting. Those who rely solely on cars are the least flexible, and might be worst off in times of disruption.
  • Anja Bierwirth compared sufficiency with efficiency. Her talk led to an excellent discussion which touched on cultural variations and how culture changes over time; questioned generational effects (Are younger people less interested in owning cars and houses? Is that only true in the developed world?); and considered ethical perspectives (Is sufficiency only for the wealthy? Is that a problem?).
  • Philipp Grunewald’s witty presentation questioned the complex relationship between GDP and electricity use. His work will see smart phones and diaries record thousands of people’s one-day activities, giving us higher resolution information to help explain daily electricity loads. He asked the audience for ideas about how best to use such data… and whether it would be ethical to send the user a message ‘Take a break‘.

 

The only downside for me were the plenary sessions. Several speakers suggested that we needed a new socio-economic paradigm to combat climate change; yet all were wedded to continued economic growth (the very lynchpin or our current paradigm!). Their ideas might challenge policymakers, but were actually conservative for a crowd of energy efficiency researchers and practitioners. Disappointingly, all the plenary speakers seemed to share a similar perspective, reducing the opportunity for debate.

Last but not least, it was good to see this year’s Summer Study nearing gender parity, with women making up 42% of delegates. Personally, I heard 24 speakers or informal session conveners, of which 12 were men and 12 women, and only one session I attended focused on technicalities of modelling was male dominated.

Back to chilly England now, two years until the next ECEEE.