Multiple benefits

Lower energy demand invariably leads to operational cost and emission savings, which are frequently assumed to be the main benefits of reducing energy demand, and the primary drivers for it. However, demand-side actions also have wider benefits.

These ‘multiple benefits’ include health improvement due to warmer homes, improved air quality, more active lifestyles and better diets. Demand side investment also creates jobs and wealth. And demand reduction and flexibility increase energy system security. In many cases, these benefits can be the key drivers for change.

Transport related emissions are a major cause of air pollution. Tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing motorised transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible [1]. Making travel affordable, reliable, clean and healthy and reducing congestion are stronger drivers for local action than energy demand reduction [2]. Active travel [3] and lower meat diets [4] also have major health benefits.

In buildings, energy efficiency can result in considerable health benefits. Many UK homes are too cold, particularly for vulnerable people [5]. Older dwellings, detached homes, single occupancy and northern locations are key risk factors [6, 7]. However, attention to ventilation is also needed to avoid unintended health consequences, including from radon [8] and elevated carbon dioxide [9], and to the increased risks of overheating as the climate warms [10]. And poorly designed or implemented fabric insulation can have disastrous consequences.

Demand side investment tends to generate economic activity that has a high propensity to create jobs locally and within the UK [11]. Building retrofit makes a larger contribution than new build to GDP, income and jobs [12]. Energy efficiency programmes in buildings and industry can therefore support post-pandemic recovery [13]. If well-designed, these can support skills and retraining for a net-zero economy, e.g. by re-training gas installers [14].

Digitalisation will continue to make a major contribution to increasing economic growth as well as the potential to improve energy efficiency significantly [15]. However, it also has potential dis-benefits, for example the security implications of smart devices [16] and generation of e-waste [17], which must be anticipated and managed.

Some of the benefits of demand side change relate to reducing non-energy emissions. For example, a major benefit from changing diets is a reduction in land-use emissions (of both carbon dioxide and methane) [4].


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