Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Do Europeans care about energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency – saving energy – is probably the area in people's lives where they can make the most difference in their personal response to the challenge of climate change, so pollsters quizzed individuals in five West European countries about their awareness of COP21, the big climate change conference happening now in Paris, and on energy efficiency. 

Their level of awareness depended on where they lived. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the host nation, 78% of French people said they had heard of the climate talks, compared with 59% of Germans, 45% of Belgians, 37% of the Dutch and just one in three, or 34%, of the British. 

This averages out to just over half, or 50.9%, of those polled.

Shame on the Brits, who didn't fare much better in knowing what the conference is about.  Just 19% of the British people asked said they knew – less than one in five – compared with 50% of French people, 30% of Germans, 20% of Belgians and 26% of the Dutch.

Most people did however say that they were personally interested in the negotiations. But they were cynical – apart from in Belgium, only a minority thought it would really change things and provide practical solutions.

All in all, 90 per cent of Europeans felt that emphasis on solving climate change should be placed on furthering technical progress.

The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive survey for SPIE Group by interviewing representative national samples of 1,000 people in each of the five countries.

Of those who think their country is lagging behind on climate change what they thought the reason for this was, a lack of political will by their leaders in making energy efficiency a priority was the commonest reason: 84% in the UK, 86% in the Netherlands, 91% in Belgium, 93% in Germany and 94% in France.

Despite being at the bottom of the league of awareness about COP21, Britons redeemed themselves here and by contrast came top over their neighbours in their awareness of the importance of energy efficiency: 94% of them had heard of it and 70% of them actually claimed to know what it is about.

Germany (where the figures are 92% and precisely 43%, respectively) came second. Most French (68%), Belgian (68%) and Dutch (60%) people also said they had heard of the term, but only a minority in France and Belgium went so far as to say they knew exactly what it entails (20% and 18% respectively).

Perhaps astonishingly, about one-third of people had never heard of energy efficiency in these countries. 

Of those Europeans who had heard of it, they spontaneously associated energy efficiency with insulation and, to a lesser extent, solar power, energy-efficient equipment and smart energy management systems.

When they were shown a list of items representing energy efficiency, the idea that it is about preventing waste was the first thing mentioned by all Europeans, whether they were in France (52%), Germany (52%), Belgium (52%), the Netherlands (46%) or the UK (60%).

Over 8 out of 10 said they were careful about reducing energy consumption in their homes: 85% in the Netherlands, 88% in the UK, 91% in Belgium and as many as 95% in France and Germany.

In regards to public places, most Belgians and French said they were careful to reduce consumption (71% and 69% respectively) whereas the other nationalities appeared to be more circumspect (from 49% in the Netherlands to 55% in the UK).

Logically enough, the more directly a location falls within their scope of action, the more people said they took action to reduce energy consumption.

The survey found that, in fact, in all the countries, property owners and people in households with an average income are more careful with their energy consumption than anybody else.

Interestingly, for retailers looking to reduce their overhead costs, in all five countries, most people believe that heating is set too high in shops, particularly in France (67%), Germany (62%), and Belgium (60%) and to a less degree in the UK (54%) and the Netherlands (49%).

They do think that their own homes are heated to the right temperature (78% of the Dutch, 70% of the French, 69% of Germans, 66% of Belgians and 56% of the British).

What is the ideal indoor temperature? 

But what is the ideal temperature? The vast majority thought the ideal indoor temperature was above 19°C (64% in the UK, 68% in the Netherlands, 79% in Belgium and as many as 85% in Germany). Nearly one-third (32%) thought the ideal heating temperature was 20°C and an average of 21% said 21°C.

They all said they were willing to go along with recommendations in this matter, and more so in the workplace than at home.

While most Belgians (52%), Dutch (51%) and British (45%) considered that their countries are about average when it comes to progress on energy efficiency, the Germans believe that they are in the lead (52%) and the French think they are lagging behind (51%).

In all the countries, individuals and local authorities are seen as the most committed to energy efficiency, ahead of businesses and, especially, ahead of the State and its administrations (which are considered to be mobilised only by a minority in most countries).

The French are differentiated by the fact that they say that local authorities are more mobilised than other players, whereas the British tend to cite each player.

In all the countries, the greatest motivating factor for energy efficiency was reducing energy bills (from 85% in the Netherlands to 93% in Belgium). This was followed by the opportunity to receive tax benefits, though that point was less often mentioned by the British (75%) than by other Europeans: 92% in Belgium, 90% in France, 89% in Germany and 81% in the Netherlands.

Other motivational factors were environmental, in particular, people’s desire to reduce pollution in their vicinity (from 89% in France to 73% in the Netherlands) and to ascertain a level of environmental awareness (from 85% in France to 73% in the UK).

The 'first fuel'

Generally speaking, it is cheaper to invest in saving energy than in generating it, making energy efficiency the most cost-effective way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the European Commission now refers to it as 'the first fuel'.

A group of investors called the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group, convened by the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, has produced a report, Energy Efficiency – the first fuel for the EU Economy. How to drive new finance for energy efficiency investments, urging a dramatic increase in action on energy efficiency.

David Thorpe is the author of:

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