ENERGISE Living Labs investigate through challenging social norms and find solutions for reducing energy usage in households
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ENERGISE Living Labs investigate through challenging social norms and find solutions for reducing energy usage in households.

In response to the increasingly urgent climate crisis, the European Commission is promoting several climate and energy targets with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonising the economy.

However, the current pace and scale of change is insufficient to achieve the necessary sustainability transitions in energy systems.

Significant role in energy transitions


Increasingly, households are seen to be playing a significant role in energy transitions – which implies challenging social norms and habits around energy usage in the home.

As part of an innovative research initiative, the ENERGISE consortium launched Energy Living Labs to develop and test options for changing energy use in households in eight countries. Energy Living Labs were implemented among over 300 households (38 in Ireland) from September to December 2018.

The ENERGISE study proves that reductions in energy use are possible when people are given the time and space to question their usual practices, as they try departing from what could be considered the norm and experiment with different approaches.

This method contrasts with approaches centred around individual or technological change, which the ENERGISE team has shown dominate initiatives aimed at changing household energy use, but fail to address the complex interactions and social norms that make up everyday life.

Based on the findings from the ENERGISE Living Labs study, below are our recommendations that can help households’ transition to a low-carbon lifestyle:
1.) Focus on changing practices, not people or technologies. It is evident that more efficient technology is not enough to reduce energy consumption. People need to be engaged and empowered to use them.

Furthermore, people need to become aware of and challenge their energy use practices, and experiment with different approaches.

For example, households should try out new programmes on their washing machines and measure their energy consumption, wash spots rather than the whole clothing item, put on extra layers or use blankets instead of turning up the thermostat, and so on. This can have quite an impact in terms of reducing energy consumption.

2.) Give people the space and means for experimentation. Creating opportunities to reflect, and inviting actors, for example, households, experts, energy companies, and policy makers, to discuss norms, rules, etc. around energy use can be very effective for challenging what tend to be tacitly accepted norms and assumptions around consumption practices.

3.) Place people and everyday practices at the centre of ‘smart technology’ approaches. It must be ensured that people can continue to have an influence on their thermal comfort, rather than counting on smart buildings or invisible heating systems that allow only limited human interventions.

Similarly, washing machines need to be designed in a way to allow for transparency on the energy and water use of programmes as well as for users to navigate easily between them and thus, influence their environmental impact.
But how did the ENERGISE Living Labs work and what were there main quantitative outcomes?

Participating households agreed to engage in two main challenges:
• Halve the number of laundry cycles they do every week, for four weeks; and
• Reduce indoor temperature in their living-rooms to 18C, for four weeks.

These challenges were co-designed to create a disruption in everyday life, involving habits and routines that can be difficult to change.

Specific attention was given to the social norms tied up with laundry and heating: when do we decide to put clothes to wash?

How can we feel comfortable at home without turning up the heat? Rather than starting with the question of technological efficiency or financial considerations, the project focused on social norms, skills, competencies, materials and infrastructures in daily energy use.

Local teams guided households in all eight countries through the same multi-method living lab process, which involved giving support and encouraging learning through using energy and thermometers; laundry and heating diaries; challenge kits, tips, discussions, and so on to support the change of energy use practices.

Through the Living Labs, the ENERGISE team found that reducing indoor temperatures by 1C in the heating season and reducing laundry by one cycle per week is possible, without compromising convenience and comfort.

In some cases, reductions were even more significant, and in many instances, changes were maintained for three months after the challenges when the ENERGISE team conducted a follow-up study.

As shown in the graph, the average number of laundry cycles per week decreased in all countries, and did not return to the original number even after the challenge finished. In fact, in many households it continued to decrease.

The table displays the self-reported average quantitative change as a result of the Living Labs for laundry and heating.

If implemented at the societal level and across all households in Europe, the energy savings could be significant.

For example, one less laundry cycle per week in Swiss households for a year represents a saving of about 13 million m3 of water, 10 million litres of laundry products and the equivalent annual electricity consumption of 90,000 households – if implemented by all Swiss households.

One less laundry cycle per week is also estimated at saving one hour of domestic work per week.

And a 1 °C drop in room temperature, during the winter months when buildings are heating, results in an estimated saving of six per cent of all energy dedicated to heating homes in Switzerland.

Project co-ordinator: Frances Fahy, National University of Ireland Galway, frances.fahy@nuigalway.ie and ENERGISE website.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/a1a-1024x512.pnghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/a1a-300x300.pngDavid O'RiordanElecclimate change,energy,sustainability
ENERGISE Living Labs investigate through challenging social norms and find solutions for reducing energy usage in households. In response to the increasingly urgent climate crisis, the European Commission is promoting several climate and energy targets with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonising the economy. However, the current pace...