Energy-saving behaviour

The aim of this study, commissioned by the Netherlands Energy Council and carried out in collaboration with CEA, was to assess the possible role of ‘soft’ policy instruments (public education, information, feedback, etc.) in securing substantial energy savings. Despite the major savings still potentially achievable, even cost-effective measures that remain available are by no means always implemented. The behaviour of three groups of energy users was investigated: households, small businesses and motorists, for none of whom energy costs form a substantial part of the cost of living or turnover.

With all these groups, there is plenty of resistance to adopting more energy-conserving patterns of behaviour. The study distinguished four types of behaviour: behaviour determining perceived needs, investment behaviour, usage behaviour and the decision to use renewable energy. Resistance to behavioural change was found to be lowest for investments in appliances and clean energy sources among consumers who were both environmentally aware and price-conscious.

Although ‘soft’ policies can temporarily promote greater rationality in these decisions, in themselves they can make no more than a minor contribution to substantial, long-term, additional energy savings. They are expensive and appeal to only a small group, moreover. The strength of these kinds of policies lies in legitimising and reinforcing the effect of ‘hard’ instruments, which do have the potential for achieving substantial energy savings.

The study concludes by recommending that the Energy Council employ ‘hard’ policies as the principal means of securing the major energy savings envisaged, backing these up with ‘soft’ policies to increase their effectiveness.

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