What lies behind this innocuous question? For some proponents of liberalism, energy efficiency should not be an obligation, free to everyone to commit to it: it is clear that few actors feel concerned and the progress we must make will be achieved in almost no country.
For others, having more a planification mindset, energy efficiency must be an obligation, driven by regulation. Some consumers do not enter a virtuous circle and work minimally, implementing just what regulation requires. Not all of them have the means to comply, and legislators often grant subsidies in parallel of obligations that make them more acceptable. Energy efficiency seems to move faster under constraints, it is expensive and the actors are not more committed so far.
What levers do consumers, energy service providers and the legislator have to position themselves on this issue? How to reconcile environmental protection and economy? How to make consumers more and more committed, on their own will?
First of all, our experiences show us that, in most cases, consumers do not have the necessary skills to save energy efficiently.
Professionals use specialized service providers they are able to pay: they expect a partnership approach, support over time but paradoxically show distrust of candidates and protect themselves by fostering competition on “insignificant” criteria, the price for example.
Households are sensitive to neighborhood animators who allow them to progress and act in a climate of conviviality. Generic energy related information has little impact for them, but a few systems, delivering accurate and timely advice at the right time, receive attention.
These inputs of skills are not sufficient to generate a significant commitment of consumers; as we have said, energy efficiency is very rarely a need, an aspiration or a goal.
So looking for energy savings while targeting the main needs of customers has always provided interesting results. Let’s be more specific:
In the residential market, comfort and safety are widespread needs. An automatic window blind controlled according to the solar radiation, the outside temperature and the presence in the room provides a very significant comfort and saves heating / air conditioning. This type of solution is appreciated but its development is hampered by a still high price.
Some shower heads and flow regulators offer a very appreciable comfort. They are acclaimed for this and the savings they can achieve are rarely put forward.
In the same market, the needs for saving money are less widespread: to seek to serve them with energy savings will therefore have less impact.
In the commercial building market, the main needs are scalability needs (offices), comfort or user services.
Automatic lighting of passageways avoids looking for switches, makes moves inside a building more fluid and saves energy. The acceptance of these solutions is quite good.
A Building Management System (BMS) is supposed to ensure a compatibility between comfort and energy saving. When selecting a BMS, improvement of comfort is very often required, in addition to technical management and maintenance. We have all encountered “hazardous” implementations of BMS, generating areas that are too cold or others that are overheated, anomalies of comfort that can lead to the “rejection” of the chosen solution. While energy savings are only very rarely a buyer’s concern, they are often the scapegoat for dissatisfied people suffering from a loss of comfort.
In the industry, the productivity of manufacturing lines, economic performance and environmental labels affecting customer purchases are the priority objectives.
In this market, more energy efficiency solutions are welcomed. But more than the solutions, installers and energy service providers must be accepted by demonstrating knowledge of their client’s production processes, which is a prerequisite for having the doors of the sites (carefully) open.
The regulation is certainly useful to support the efforts of consumers for more energy sobriety. I remain convinced by the facts that it must accompany a trend, not necessarily constrain it. The smoothness, marketing intelligence and tactfulness of experts and energy service providers are therefore essential to make these consumers move forward by themselves in parallel.
Energy savings should not be perceived as constraints to avoid or circumvent. It is only after a few successful experiences, carried out with service providers eager to converge energy savings and consumer needs, that we can hope for a change of outlook of the majority of consumers on environmental objectives.
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Eric Morel is a worldwide recognised expert of energy transition and digitalisation. In the past, he has served as VP Corporate Business Strategy and VP Global Smart Grids and Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric as well as CEO of Ilevo, a telecommunication start-up. He is a founding member and a former Board member of the Gridwise Alliance, the main professional private/public association dedicated to Smart Energy.