Driving sustainable energy transition in Irish communities
31 January 2017
This research in Trinity College Dublin aims to foster sustainable transition in Irish communities. The main aim here is to understand which factors are important for each community in driving their transition.
Transition and transformation of consumption at the individual and community scale is needed for sustainability and imperative if we are to halt runaway climate change. These enablers provide the optimal environment for behaviour change to occur: this is important, as behaviour-change interventions drive greater resource and energy savings than any other type of intervention, be that product design or energy efficiency.
The evidence can be seen in Figure 1, where behaviour change (top right) passes out all other interventions. It is not that these other interventions are not worthwhile, but more that you ignore behaviour change at your peril.
The funding from the Environmental Protection Agency has enabled me to compile a list of factors which have enabled sustainable transition in communities across the globe. It has also enabled me to bring these enablers/factors to communities who test, rank and prioritise them.
Driving sustainability in communities
A key feature in our findings has been the difference in what drives sustainability in communities, as each community is unique. On January 17, we brought all of this learning to a policy co-design event where policy makers, implementers, community practitioners, energy and resource-use specialists, facilitators and communities set out to design policies which fit with the communities and with these enablers.
Due to the use of the enablers in this co-design experiment, the emerging policies will be potent and long lasting. All of the policy co-design on the day will now be fed into a final plenary session or ‘roundtable’-type event.
The actors, individuals or groups are one of the groups coming out of the list of 108 enablers that we have identified. There are 17 actors in the list and, at the community scale, they are significant drivers of green transition. Our research shows that the active individuals and groups within communities are diverse and that each community presents a very unique actor profile.
Regional or national campaigns should take this into consideration before spending heavily on campaigns; they should initially engage the active in order to get the programs or interventions going. We have had a checkered history with campaigns and some have significantly underperformed in relation to impact at the behaviour change and community scale.
The real lesson is that where campaigns are strategic and take into account the breadth of measures open to them in relation to driving change that the performances shown in the chart above can be achieved. In reality, though, campaigns have often failed badly and this has been reviewed by others (ESRI, 2013).
The other 91 of the 108 factors are generally mechanisms that the 17 actors have used both nationally and globally. Two simple examples are ‘norms’ and ‘effective communication’ and I have demonstrated the importance of norms to a number of audiences. Indeed, attendees are always taken by their importance.
The second factor I discussed was effective communication. Effective communication is a science in its own right and there are 52 driving factors within this, which drive sustainable transition. One of these is ‘ambient cues’ and interesting research from the University of Bath (Fig 2) shows the importance of this.
Meaningful measurement, not numerical measurement
You can see from this research that professionals, whether working with individuals or communities, should use less numerical or analog-type measurements in their communication. Despite this, you will see units of energy on bills and other customer-related information devices. It seems people do not have the time to take this in: what they need to see is a meaningful measurement and that is exactly what ambient cues can provide.
Simply put, a smiley face showing somebody that this particular route is desired or undesired is preferable to all of the technical constructs that an engineer or scientist could produce.
Most interventions ignore effective communication but, as with norms, you do this at your peril, wasting lots of money in the process. The two factors reported here are an example of the other 91 factors and provide an indication of their importance and relevance to future focused and efficient policymaking.
Our main aim is to support communities on a co-designed and co-produced transition. That is the opposite of a one-policy measure (an incentive), driving communities on an expert-led transition. Expert-led transition and community-led transition are two very different transitions. By enhancing and co-creating community transition, regulators can meet our national targets painlessly.
Runaway climate change and rising resource depletion show how policy since the industrial revolution has failed. In general, our one-size-fits-all policies are not driving sustainability. The good news for government, however, is that through working with us at our policy event, emerging and co-designed policies will drive sustainability.
On the basis of our early analysis (and this is a guarded forecast), it seems that by grouping policy measures in a number of ways, the diversity presented by community can be supported and that real sustainable transition would ensue.
This is just a glimpse of what we are seeing at the moment from our research, but the facilitated policy event will help to define the next steps so we can support policy makers and implementers in plugging into the mechanisms required for real and sustainable transition at the community scale.
Please see https://www.tcd.ie/civileng/research/energy/sustainablecommunities/index.php for more information on Carragher and McCormack’s research.
Vincent Carragher works with individuals, groups and communiites on their green transition. Essential in this is measurement and has material flow analysis for over 95 Irish communities as part of his research. He also specialises in facilitation, engagement and empowerment of sustainable change and transition in groups and communities. He has fostered the deeper energy and resource use reduction in 24 communities and most recently working on the resource use measurement and green transition of Cloughjordan Ecovillage. Interventions usually achieve reductions in energy or resource use between 10 and 40%. Some examples of communities supported in this way are the community-owned Templederry Windfarm, Drombane Upperchurch retrofit programme, Tipperary Energy Communities, Galway Post Carbon project and the Aran Islands energy transition.
Sarah McCormack is a professor, lecturer and researcher in renewable energy in Trinity College Dublin. Her specialist interests lie in solar PV and she has set up a research laboratory where her postdoctoral and postgraduate students work. Her research profile can be seen on Researchgate. She was one of seven TCD researchers in 2015 to acquire major funding for her research winning 1.5 million euro. Her work with Carragher sees the school of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering expand its expertise and include the domain of community. This research aims to enhance the sustainable transition of communities in Ireland and beyond.
ESRI, 2013. ‘Advertising to boost energy efficiency: the Power of One campaign and natural gas consumption.’ The Economic and Social Research Institute (Dublin).