Library image, photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

Borrowing, energy demand and Covid: a model for disruption

06 June, 2021

Borrowing, energy demand and Covid: a model for disruption

Ralitsa Hiteva

Tim Foxon

Research paper   Digital Society

Ralitsa Hiteva and Tim Foxon


The sustainability of sharing economy business models, where less frequently-used items like power drills, carpet cleaners and jigsaws are borrowed rather than purchased, is often assumed. Multiple social and environmental benefits are associated with the more efficient use of resources that such models offer, focusing on the act of borrowing. However, little is known about the implications of borrowing models on energy demand. This paper examines a specific community-based model for borrowing, called Library of Things (LoT) in London, UK and the ways through which it is connected to energy demand. In examining the connection between energy demand and borrowing the paper pursues an ambitious agenda of contributing towards two important gaps in understanding energy demand and particularly its connections to borrowing: energy demand’s “narrowness” and “invisibility”.

The connections between energy demand and the community-based model of borrowing is analysed through the lens of wellbeing, uncovering a powerful connection between the three but also pointing to an important gap in the current model for borrowing. The paper considers the disruptive changes to the LoT borrowing model which came with the global pandemic, revealing the deep-rooted invisibility of energy demand in borrowing and its powerful linkages with wellbeing. The paper puts forward important questions for understanding the relationship between borrowing and energy demand.

Based on observations, interviews and focus groups carried out in 2020 and 2021, the paper finds that energy intensive items like carpet cleaners constitute over 70% of borrowing and are most frequently borrowed. However, associated energy demand is invisible in borrowing, while the borrowing model is driven by customer experience (good quality and durability of items), leading to environmental trades off. Only a small percentage of choices that users make over what is borrowed, how frequently and how it is used in the home are driven by the cost of energy and the energy intensity of the item.

The global pandemic disrupted the LoT’s model of operation, making visible the energy demand of items in the LoT and for customers, amplifying further the importance of energy intensive items. With the expansion of LoT operations within the UK even during the pandemic, this case study offers important lessons for the development and scaling up of borrowing models.

Publication details

Hiteva, R. and Foxon, T. 2021. Borrowing, energy demand and Covid: a model for disruptionOpens in a new tab. In: Proceedings of eceee 2021 Summer Study on energy efficiency: a new reality? Conference paper 1-172-21. Online, 7–11 June 2021.

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash