From rhetoric to action

This chapter has argued for a policy framework that would allow us to express the part of our identities that is as much 'energy citizen' as 'energy consumer'. This requires efficiency and generation measures that are already available but not yet widely embraced. On one hand people have become more aware of climate change, but on the other our energy consuming patterns at home largely remain unsustainable, whether for reasons of our behaviour, the type of houses we live in or the wider regulatory framework on which our energy system is based.

To empower people to become more like the 'green citizens' a framework should be developed to encourage people to become active participants in a sustainable energy system. In the UK many elements of this are either planned or under discussion, but progress by the government has been slow and timid. There is little analysis of how the existing and proposed measures might interact, or what combination should be implemented. An ambitious obligation on energy suppliers should be implemented as soon as possible, as a new cap and trade scheme.

Installing smart meters and information displays should be an immediate priority. This would provide better information to consumers and energy suppliers, thereby making widespread use of micro-generation more viable and possibly stimulating behavioural change. In addition, energy efficiency measures and micro-generation technology investment should be encouraged by offering tax allowances and other incentives to both companies and to citizens. In this way, encouragement should be given to both those who wish to do more actively themselves and to those who would prefer energy companies to do it for them. The UK micro-generation market itself is still at an early and fragile stage. It is encouraging that the government now supports a mandated feed-in tariff for small scale renewables. It will be important in implementing this that the tariff is set at a level that will provide citizens with a good enough incentive to invest.

Energy efficiency in both existing and new housing stock needs to be encouraged more vigorously. Building regulations need to be stricter and properly enforced; voluntary codes are unlikely to deliver required energy savings and risk being overlooked by property developers. Energy efficiency in existing buildings should receive more attention, for instance by requiring installation of energy efficiency measures when other refurbishment work is undertaken (such as loft conversions or extensions). Another option would be to stimulate uptake of renewable heat technologies when heating systems are replaced.

Last but not least, there is a real need to look at our wider consumption patterns and the goods we buy. Consumer products, especially electrical appliances and vehicles, need to be labelled, and the most inefficient models phased out. As 'energy citizens', rather than 'brown consumers', our purchasing decisions and energy consuming behaviours can have positive environmental consequences. The UK case has illustrated the breadth and complexity of policy measures needed to create a framework that enables people to make this transition.

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