A new book analysing energy and environmental law and policy in Europe and the US features contributions by two Centre for Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) researchers who argue that reducing energy demand will prove more challenging than is commonly assumed and that current policy approaches are insufficient. They argue that a multidisciplinary approach that combines social and technical considerations and emphasises the need for wider changes to energy systems is needed to deliver the transformation required.
In his chapter Steve Sorrell, Co-Director of CIED and Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit, provides an overview of the main issues and challenges associated with reducing energy demand. At the global level, there is a strong correlation between increased wealth and increased energy consumption. So far, the impact of policies to reduce energy demand appears relatively limited and the appropriate policy approaches remain contested.
Improved energy efficiency is often equated with reduced energy demand, but this can be misleading. For example, the energy savings from improved equipment may be partly offset by the energy required to manufacture that equipment. A failure to acknowledge these complexities may partly explain the paradox of improving energy efficiency alongside increasing energy demand.
Sorrell suggests that energy efficiency policy needs to take a system-wide perspective that allows these mechanisms to be anticipated and allowed for. Energy efficiency policy also needs to “move out of the ghetto” and to draw upon a broader range of ideas with the aim of encouraging fundamental system change: “It is possible to deliver better quality of life with less energy consumption, but we have been rather naive regarding how easily this can be achieved and our attempts to do so are still rather limited and half-hearted.”
Dr Florian Kern, Co-director of the Sussex Energy Group and Senior Lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit, currently leads a cross-cutting project as part of CIED which focuses on policy mixes. His chapter is focused on UK energy efficiency policy and the importance of making a transition towards more sustainable energy systems. This transition must include an increased focus on improving energy efficiency rather than purely focussing on low carbon supply options, says Kern.
UK energy efficiency policies tend to focus too narrowly on affecting the behaviour of consumers or on stimulating the diffusion of more efficient technologies, argues Kern, rather than focussing on wider energy system change. “The UK experience is not unusual and shows how difficult it is to develop policy mixes which promote transitions towards more sustainable energy systems even with ambitious climate change targets in place,” said Dr Kern. The institutional fragmentation of responsibilities and limited capabilities for energy efficiency policy design in the UK are also of concern.
Kern suggests instead that policy makers should develop a portfolio of complementary policy instruments to promote wider system change. “While there are certainly no technological ‘silver bullets’ or ‘optimal policy mixes’, there is much room for improving how energy efficiency policy is geared towards stimulating energy transitions.”