Mediterranean Sea by Clare Downing

The changing use of energy efficient technologies – reflections from ECEEE Summer Study

16 July, 2019

Clare Downing

Reading time: 4 minutes

When CREDS Centre Manager, Clare Downing, last worked in energy efficiency the focus was on energy efficient technologies. She attended the ECEEE Summer Study in June to find out how things have changed.

It might look like I’m sharing my holiday pics and the reality is I did have a week in the sun – but at the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee) Summer Study representing the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS).

I attended this conference because I have been in a different technical field for the past ten years, and I wanted to find out what had changed while I had been away. The focus then was on energy efficient technologies such as pumps and refrigerators with the market push encouraged by standards for appliances, such as energy labelling. In some ways, things have moved on dramatically:

  • Electric vehicles and their associated infrastructure have made great strides in terms of efficiency, acceptability and penetration into the vehicle fleet (in some countries more than others e.g. Norway)
  • Combined heat and power (CHP) plants fuelled by natural gas, which at one time were expected to replace household boilers for heat and hot water have been superseded by heat pumps and
  • Digital and ‘smart’ are now common place, especially smart meters and this technology can increasingly enable whole new ways of living and working – however there are still occasions when ‘computer says no’.

It struck me that we seem to be good at developing technical solutions but haven’t made so much progress on the people side – changing behaviours to reduce energy use and getting the majority of people to use new energy efficient technologies. This is certainly true in the UK in the transport sector where there has been a 6% increase in energy use since 1990. One of the challenges that emerged at eceee was the difficulty of getting these new energy efficient technologies used in the real-world at scale (mass uptake). Discussions about solutions were varied and inspired – when you are swimming in the Med you can’t help but be inspired!

It transpires that in order for research findings to be used as evidence to drive policy that reduces energy use or increases the uptake of technology you need three things:

  1. Perfect timing – a window of opportunity in the political and policy process that is favourable.
  2. An intermediary organisation – that is demand-led and can synthesise the array of information available, focusing on the meaning not the method. It then needs to translate this information into language that policy makers can understand and for the work to be completed in policy makers’ timescales of months, not years.
  3. Finally you need a delivery body – that is resourced and understands the local situation i.e. is linked into the local authority and community groups that will be affected.

These science-policy engagement activities are also the subject of an ECI briefing paper which details a range of approaches for science-policy engagement and examples from ECI.

There are many examples around of these intermediary and delivery bodies – such as the large energy efficiency and energy management programmes in the UK (Carbon Trust and Energy Savings Trust) up until 2012 when their funding was withdrawn due to austerity and climate change no longer being a political priority. However, just as the UK-wide programmes were going, Scotland started its own version with ClimateXChange as an intermediary body and Energy Efficient Scotland as one of the routes to delivery. There is also a current window of opportunity with the climate strikes raising public awareness, very strong science evidence (such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on 1.5oC) and support for the political and regulatory elements in Scotland.

CREDS is a newer intermediary body and is planning to facilitate a networking hub for the energy demand research community and synthesise material for policy and business audiences. CREDS was also busy networking at eceee and my colleague Tina Fawcett has written a blog about what CREDS did at the conference.

It will be interesting to see what progress has been made both in Scotland and elsewhere, when I next go swimming in the Med at eceee 2021…

Banner photo credit: Clare Downing