Our last monthly meeting with local governments and practitioners working on energy poverty was on the topic of behavioural change. Thanks to two experts and an active discussion with participants, we were able to talk about how using behavioural change measures can help individuals and households in their energy consumption. Marta Garcia, from Ecoserveis, a non-profit organisation working in the energy field, and Dr. Andrea Tamas, a psychologist working at Ranas Ltd., a behaviour change consultancy, shared their perspectives on the topic. Here are the key takeaways from the discussion:
Understand the diversity of energy behaviours
‘’People make numerous decisions around energy consumption that affects the kWh they spent’’, explained Marta Garcia. Talking about behaviour change in relation to energy consumption requires to pay attention to the energy behaviour of consumers. However, Marta Garcia highlighted that energy usage can vary within a single household, as presented by a Eurostat survey (Energy consumption in households in 2020). If the identification of the main usages and high-consumption devices can help practitioners to give relevant energy advice, the energy usages vary from one household to another. ‘’After many years of monitoring energy use in Spanish households, some patterns (of consumption) may differ’’. Different factors can come into play and influence energy consumption. The solution proposed is to conduct a qualitative assessment to understand the energy behaviour of the local population, in order to introduce targeted campaigns on behaviour change.
Both speakers stressed that energy behaviour is not a cause of energy poverty. It is, however, an aspect on which we can act, in order to give advice to vulnerable consumers to reduce their costs related to energy.
Elaborate an adequate and adapted behaviour change communications
Dr Andrea Tamas presented the different steps to develop awareness campaigns. The first step is to identify the behavioural factor(s) that affect(s) the behaviour that is to be addressed. Behavioural factors can be the attitudes, the perceived benefits/costs, the barriers, the social norms, knowledge levels, the abilities etc. During the assessment phase, it is important to gather information also on the social, physical and personal context. Once the analysis determines which behavioural factors matter, messages and interventions can be developed from existing evidence-based behaviour change techniques, such as nudges, making behaviours of others visible, providing information, etc.
Simplifying the language used in relation to energy
Dr. Andrea Tamas recalled that ‘’being vulnerable and being energy poor, is actually something that people rarely admit for themselves as a reality’’. It is therefore necessary to have a proper communication when you develop messages and campaigns for behaviour change. Marta Garcia stressed the importance of terminology and put forward the term ‘’energy user’’ instead of ‘’consumer’’, to claim more activeness in terms of energy.
Framing of key messages appropriately is therefore very important. Many campaigns are still ‘’targeting the cost as an argument for a change’’, underlined Dr. Andrea Tamas. People in vulnerable conditions find it more difficult to act on costs or to purchase new pieces of equipment, because of the high price of energy-efficient appliances.
The most effective solutions to enable households to change their behaviour and consumption are rather those that aim at improving the accessibility and transparency of information relating to energy: energy contracts, bills, etc. An expert from INZEB, a Greek non-profit organisation specialised on energy, expressed the need to improve the material that consumers receive, primarily the bills. The audience shared the difficulty for consumers to correctly understand energy bills. Part of the solution proposed was to simplify bills to allow consumers to better understand their consumption, and therefore to better manage it. Marta Garcia underlined the benefits of changing energy suppliers to save money, on the condition of being able to find a way through the large flow of complex information.
When it comes to intervene in a household to give energy advice, Marta Garcia emphasised the importance to ‘’personalise the advice and to adapt the language to provide information in a simple and clear manner’’. The process of developing target communications on energy behaviour has to be a holistic approach. The campaigns and communications ‘’have to be embodied in a broader picture, it needs a systemic commitment of all (political, infrastructural) levels before we can actually ask individuals to change their behaviour’’ said Dr. Andrea Tamas.
Both speakers highlighted the lack of literacy on energy at all levels, pointing out the necessity for practitioners or decision-makers to be better informed on energy aspects and challenges faced by vulnerable consumers in order to implement good practices and communications to intervene with these groups.
Empower consumers on energy aspects
Thediscussion made clear that far from putting responsibility on vulnerable consumers, behavioural change is a tool to provide adequate support to individuals and households in their daily energy usages. Different solutions are gathered within behavioural change concept, from modifying some habits, concrete energy saving tips, providing clearer information, etc.
These actions focus on improving people's capacity to act on their energy usages, but this is not the only solution. On the contrary, these behaviour change measures must be combined by other measures. Behaviour change can potentially help those affected by energy poverty, but structural measures such as ensuring affordable energy prices, supporting low-income households, ensuring building renovation and others, are necessary and must be combined.
In the end, behavioural change measures also empower consumers, giving them the means to act more on the energy field, and to redefine their relations with stakeholders, energy suppliers, and all actors in the complex energy system.
- Datum publicatie
- 11 mei 2023
- Directorate-General for Energy