We all need to use less energy. Even if renewable sources are growing strongly, much of what we use as consumers still contributes to the bad things weʼre doing to our shared home, planet Earth. As a result, the government, the energy industry and plenty of others have spent the last ten years telling us to use less, giving us “smart meters” and “energy dashboards”, and generally attempting to get us to change our behaviour for good.
Has it worked? Not much. I donʼt have any evidence for that, but look around you. Weʼre all filling our homes with Alexas, wearing Fitbits on our wrists and paying our Netflix subscriptions. The world has changed in these last ten years, but energy use just goes plodding on. We still live in drafty old homes, leave the lights on all the time, and open the window when it gets too hot rather than turning down the radiator because “itʼs easier”.
But using less energy is really easy. Itʼs as easy as losing weight or stopping smoking. Both those things are simple, right? Want to lose weight? Just eat less. Still smoking? Smoking kills – so just stop it. OK, whatʼs next?
The problem is that eating is nice, and it doesnʼt cost very much. Eating makes us feel good (at least in the moment). It makes us feel warm, loved and secure. All fundamental emotional things. Smoking costs a lot more, but itʼs really nice (even nicer than eating, or so Iʼm told). So who wants to change their behaviour when theyʼre doing something they enjoy?
Consuming energy is nice too. It makes us feel warm (sound familiar?) and gives us security and comfort. And it really isnʼt that expensive. But Iʼll tell you what is expensive. Thinking. Most people donʼt like it. Itʼs too much trouble. So when you ask me to use less energy, and you make me think about how to do it, well, I think I might just have another pizza and a cigarette thanks.
So is it any surprise that when the energy industry, or the construction industry, or the government offers consumers complicated energy-saving schemes, most people vote with their feet and switch off?
The biggest problem is that the energy industry is run by nerds. I know, because I am one. A nerd that is, not someone who runs the energy industry, obviously. And we nerds tend to think that everyone thinks like us. You know, that they have a spreadsheet that calculates the net running costs of their car over the lifetime of their ownership (oh, is that just me?). If only everyone behaved “logically” they would do whatʼs needed to bring our collective energy use down, and to save the planet. So why donʼt they?
OK – Iʼm out of energy, and youʼre out of patience. Hereʼs the bottom line. We need to treat energy use much less as a technical problem and much more as a human one. The innovation we need is in business models and user- experience. Someone, somewhere, sometime is going to invent a whole new way of offering and selling energy to consumers that capitalises on actual human behaviours and desires, not imagined ones. And theyʼre going to get rich doing it. Which is a small price to pay for saving the planet donʼt you think?
Anyone want to have a go?