Promoting energy efficiency and conservation is a long-term social and policy challenge all around the world. While the private sector and the governments undoubtedly have roles to play, households remain responsible for a significant part of energy consumption. There are countless examples of the remarkable extent to which people tend to be wasteful of resources. On a closer inspection, for instance, people with easy access to energy and other resources are often found to be wasteful.
From another perspective, while people buy efficient appliances to optimise energy consumption and minimise energy bills, there is a well-known propensity among them to over-use the appliance, which offsets any efficiency gain, i.e., no overall cost-savings. The case of buying an inverter type air conditioner and setting the temperature very low and/or keeping it running when it is not necessary could be a good illustration of no efficiency gain. Another classic example is purchasing an energy-efficient car to replace the old and inefficient car and driving the new car more than usual. Simply put, energy efficiency reduces the cost of energy and therefore, once a person owns an efficient car, he automatically calculates how many additional miles he could drive with his efficient car with the energy cost he used to pay before.
On the other hand, many people, for obvious reasons lack the proper understanding of energy efficiency, as reflected by their ambivalence about purchasing energy-efficient appliances. To enable consumers to make more informed decisions, they should have precise information about the energy-efficient appliances and services available in the market. Otherwise, in the presence of information asymmetry, sub-optimal decisions on energy efficiency and conservation are inevitable.
Energy efficiency and conservation are complicated by rising incomes that leave people with more money at disposal. Unless people are energy conscious and very much committed to sustainability, enhanced spending capacity might lead to additional expenditure on utility bills resulting from the usage of new appliances and gadgets.
As such, policymakers find themselves baffled when their energy efficiency and conservation policies go off-track. After rigorous assessments of energy efficiency and conservation opportunities, the targets for energy efficiency and conservation are being fixed, which at times turn out to be elusive. The topic is broached up in different discussions. Be that as it may, several dimensions contribute to the overall problem. Consumers with entrenched behaviour often take energy for granted as they pay monthly bills without giving a thought on the total process through which energy is being delivered to their homes. Many of them are oblivious of the opportunities they have in their hands to reduce energy use. Some people, of course, are climate-conscious enough to support energy efficiency and conservation but when it comes to altering their own behaviour and lifestyle, they do not follow through. Moreover, many people do not know the level of subsidies that flow to fossil fuels to make energy affordable to them when 1 out of 10 people, according to UN reports, find their lives stifled by the lack of access to electricity.
Empirical evidence from different countries delineates that, even seemingly minor changes in behaviours have huge impacts on energy savings. However, many people are not aware of and informed about the benefits of energy efficiency and conservation and where the individual behavioural changes are needed to yield the benefits. Therefore, understanding how individuals make decisions vis-à-vis energy efficiency and conservation, raising awareness on the opportunities and benefits of increased energy efficiency and conservation among people, and encouraging their commitment to intensify effort towards energy efficiency and conservation are crucial to making the policies successful. It also makes sense to spend resources to raise awareness as the combination of energy efficiency and conservation on the demand side is more economical than adding new power capacity on the supply side to meet rising energy demand.
The awareness-raising is not a one-off event and should rather be consistently carried out over a period to leave a long-term impact on the people. This posits the need for communication that people would remember. And when emotions are involved people may easily reminisce about something. Both positive emotions - happiness, pleasure, fun etc. and negative emotions - hate, grief, sorrow etc.- generate stronger memories. Nevertheless, positive emotions are mostly exploited in advertisements. When we talk about sustainability communications, i.e., for energy efficiency and conservation, they differ in several ways compared to the basic advertising. For instance, knowledge transfer, behavioural and attitudinal change to espouse energy efficiency and conservation by someone, as a result of communication, are simply more ambitious than the goal of general advertising. While huge fund allocations are made for advertisements of new products, energy efficiency and conservation communications often face budget constraints.
As Joseph Pulitzer said, "Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.", concise, coherent and correct messages with pictorials could induce behavioural changes and create the much-needed alacrity among the people of the target group (s) on energy efficiency and conservation. More importantly, the communication shall attract the attention (A) of people, raise interest (I) on energy efficiency and conservation among them, create desire (D) to pursue efforts for energy efficiency and conservation and finally lead to actions (A) for energy efficiency and conservation. It is known as the AIDA principle. The eventual goal is to trigger the change "from perception to action". This is one of the models that may help stimulate behavioural changes on energy efficiency and conservation but there are other models too. And, to be fair, the model is not devoid of limitations – for example, after the fourth step (action), the sustainability of behavioural change is a missing element in the model.
Finally, the awareness of energy efficiency and conservation has the potential to contribute to energy and resource-saving, which amid the challenges of containing global greenhouse gas emissions is something we should all focus on. There is also an ethical dimension to look into this when we still find people struggling to tackle fuel poverty. And awareness-raising on energy efficiency and conservation, supported by the appropriate communication strategy, is a potential lever for the policymakers to deliver a multitude of benefits – starting from economic dividends to addressing fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.
The author is a Humboldt Scholar; He is an engineer and environmental economist. In this opinion piece, he has adapted information and concept from the presentation that was delivered to the Humboldt Scholars by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU), Germany, during March 2018, as part of the introductory seminar.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.