53.1 Creating Lasting Change in Energy Use Patterns through Improved User Interaction

Eva Heiskanen , National Consumer Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
Mikael Johnson , National Consumer Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
Mika Saastamoinen , National Consumer Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
Edina Vadovics , GreenDependent Sustainable Solutions Association, Gödöllö, Hungary
Full Papers
  • JOACC_Creating Lasting Change.pdf (164.0 kB)
  • Europe has ambitious goals for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to shift the energy market toward an increased focus on energy services based on end-user needs (e.g., light and warmth rather than electricity). Such a shift requires the adoption of radically innovative solutions entailing significant behavioural and social change. This requires a close understanding of the role of end users in technology adoption, appropriation and changing use patterns. Energy demand-side projects and the energy intermediaries operating them are key in encouraging more sustainable energy consumption patterns.

    This paper is based on an ongoing EU FP7 project called CHANGING BEHAVIOUR. The project aims to support the shift toward end-user services in European energy policy. It (1) develops a sophisticated but practical model of end-user behaviour and stakeholder interaction, based on previous experience, (2) tests the conceptual model in workshops with energy practitioners in different parts of Europe (3) tests the conceptual model in pilot projects, and (4) creates a toolkit for practitioners to manage the sociotechnical change involved in energy demand side projects. CHANGING BEHAVIOUR works through intensive co-operation between researchers and energy practitioners from nine European countries.

    The present paper focuses on interaction between energy users and energy practitioners. For energy experts and energy intermediaries, energy efficiency is often the most logical thing in the world. It saves money, saves the environment and reduces carbon emissions. Unfortunately, energy end-users rarely see the world in the same way. For energy end-users, energy use is often ‘invisible' and rarely the subject of conscious decision. Thus, getting to know the target group and finding the best ways to interact with it are key issues for managers of energy demand-side management programmes and projects.


    Energy means different things to different people. Studies have found that people do not know much about how and where energy is used. While such findings suggest that more public education is necessary, they can also be criticized for exhibiting a ‘deficit model' of lay knowledge concerning energy. It is assumed that because lay people do not have the same kind of knowledge as experts do, they know nothing. Other authors consider the problem of energy knowledge from the opposite perspective (Shove, 1998; Guy and Shove, 1998). Experts simply frame energy use in different terms – often ones that are distant from ordinary households' or organisations' needs and concerns. They fail to understand why households behave ‘irrationally' because they fail to grasp the logic of energy use (e.g., Parnell and Popovic-Larsen, 2005). The information about user needs and the possibilities for energy efficiency is thus ‘sticky' (von Hippel 1998; 2005) and does not easily move between energy users and experts.

    Data and methods

    The present paper draws on two sets of data, both collected within the CHANGING BEHAVIOUR project. The first is a meta-analysis of factors influencing success and failure in 24 previous cases of demand-side projects in different parts of Europe. In the present paper, we focus on an important set of factors conditioning success, i.e., interaction between the programme managers (energy experts) and the target groups (which in our cases, were households, SMEs or other building users).

    The second set of data builds on our ongoing work in testing our conceptual framework in pilot projects in different parts of Europe. In our presentation, we present some of our first insights gained in trying to find improved, yet practical, ways for interacting with target groups.

    Results: successful interaction in previous and ongoing projects

    Our meta-analysis of success and failure in previous projects (Mourik et al. forthcoming) identified ‘making the intervention meaningful to the target group' to be one of the key factors influencing the success or failure of energy demand-side programmes. Many previous attempts to influence end-users' energy consumption have failed to conceptualise energy-end users' ways of dealing with energy. One of the problems is that energy is almost a ‘non-issue' in the everyday life of energy end-users: energy use is ‘invisible' – a consequence of other everyday activities, rather than a conscious choice. Another problem is that previous change programmes have often failed to examine energy end-users in their social contexts. Our conceptual framework aims to provide, among others, a more realistic perspective on end-users and their contexts.

    In order to make the intervention meaningful, the programme managers need to know the target group well. They need to understand why end-users use energy in a certain way, what they are doing when they use energy, how they make decisions, and what sociotechnical networks influence their energy usage patterns. Moreover, the communication channels and formats should be tailored to the specific characteristics of the user. Successful project managers also understood that end-users can have variable needs and expectations depending on their local circumstances, and often their expectations can be quite different from those of the project managers. The cases demonstrated that projects are more likely to resonate with a target group if they bring multiple benefits – e.g., increased comfort, increased sense of being in control or increased social cohesion. Successful projects came up with solutions that meet different expectations at the same time and make the project a natural way for the end-users to reach their own goals.

    Larger projects can build on extensive, dedicated research on the attitudes, knowledge and practices of the target group. Small, local projects rarely have this possibility, but they may have other advantages. We found many local projects that were capable of communicating meaningfully with their target groups. We identified a number of ways in which they did so, such as close face-to-face contacts, user participation, user networks and ‘mini-pilots', as well as making full use of existing research and experience within their own organizations and partners within their networks. Our presentation discusses ways of building user knowledge and user engagement into the design of energy demand-management projects on the basis of previous experiences and our ongoing pilot projects.