Keeping energy efficiency at the top of the agenda – reflections on the ECEEE Summer Study

Set in the south of France, the ECEEE conference is a sight to behold. 433 people arguing variably between islanding and implementation. The range of subjects fits the subject matter and the plenaries spiced with juicy names do little to challenge the focus of the event. It nevertheless needs to be understood as a unique opportunity for inquiry, investigation and interchanging of opinions amongst a well-connected and thematically homogenous group of people. Eurocentric by nature, however, it encompasses an air of disregard of issues facing the OTHERS. A sprinkling of poorly attended sessions addressing issues of the less fortunate classes (i.e. around three-quarters of the world’s population) bear witness to these shortfalls. Big names and quirky titles fare better.

The setting is difficult to beat and the usual conference fatigue never sets in as the precisely managed sessions allow for intense yet concentrated interaction and engagement. Food is abundant and of good quality; lunchtime wine ensures that discussions arising in morning sessions do not lose their intellectual vigour as the afternoon sun is set to drain motivational and physical capacities. Breakout sessions are focused although often misconceived as presentation space by the organisers.

Specific subject matters according to the schedule put any normal being to sleep but low and behold, self-proclaimed energy efficiency experts attend in full force. Critique depends very much on the topic although the off-the-shelf plenaries are representative of a more-often-than-not unchallenging acceptance of energy efficiency as a ‘first fuel’. Research into behavioural aspects, particularly social practice theory, emerges as a rare source of fundamental questions surrounding the economic growth imperative that usually presupposed (energy) efficiency gains.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, education, finance and emerging business models provide pragmatic cornerstones of widespread appreciation and understanding of energy efficiency investments as ‘slow’ yet stable investment opportunities akin to government bonds. Investor confidence was highlighted in relation to potential energy efficiency markets while education was rarely yet specifically highlighted as a prerequisite of a fundamental understanding of energy (efficiency) issues.

As a biannual event, ECEEE summer study stands out as a unique opportunity to network with the chosen few who engage intellectually and practically in specific energy efficient subject matters despite some shortfalls in grasping the opportunity to challenge some intellectual barriers.

Photo of Colin Nolden smiling

Colin Nolden has an academic background in geography, history, economics, politics, sustainable development and energy policy with research interests spanning environmental sustainability, the diffusion of innovation and energy system transformation. After graduating from University College Dublin in 2007 with a BA in Geography and History, Colin joined the University of Exeter and completed an MSc in Sustainable Development in 2008 and a PhD in Energy Policy in 2013. His employment stints throughout his academic career have spanned steel working, mussel farming and energy efficiency consulting. He joined CIED in September 2013 where he worked on the diffusion of energy service contracting project. He left CIED in 2015.