This study looks at the key role the public sector plays in promoting energy efficiency in homes and workplaces in five industrialised countries: the UK, US, Canada, Germany and France. The initiatives fall into three main categories: increasing access to information on energy use and ways to reduce it; offering incentives in the form of grants, loans or tax breaks for upgrades; and supporting or directly providing energy-use labelling and ratings systems for products and for buildings.
The study focuses on the following areas:
- The main types of strategies for encouraging energy savings
- How information campaigns and incentives can be tailored to specific audiences
- The role played by product labelling and standard-setting for energy efficiency
- An assessment of what strategies work best in encouraging efficiency
- Conservation initiatives can be grouped into three broad categories: raising awareness, tightening technical standards for buildings and energy-using products, and offering incentives to cut energy use.
- Ownership of buildings determines the strategy for saving energy. For owner-occupied buildings, investments in efficiency pay back over time in lower energy bills. In rented housing and workplaces, a gains-sharing approach, in which owners as well as tenants benefit from efficiency investments, work best.
- Raising awareness I: Tailoring the message to the audience is important. Some respond best to appeals based on environmental protection, while others care most about financial incentives and returns.
- Raising awareness II: Choosing a trusted messenger is also key to successful awareness campaigns. For example in the US, regulated utilities tend to be trusted sources, whereas in the UK, privatised energy companies encountered resistance to their conservation messages.
- Setting standards and applying labels: Product-labelling schemes that rate the efficiency of buildings or homes have proven effective tools for cutting energy use. An example is the US ‘Energy Star’ programme.
- Incentives count: Various government incentive programmes, as well as private-sector gains-sharing schemes, have proven effective in promoting energy efficiency.
- Avoiding the ‘rebound effect’: While investment in efficiency lowers energy bills, governments should guard against the “rebound effect”, in which consumers—encouraged by the greater efficiency—buy more appliances and devices and thereby end up using more energy, not less.