green-energyGlobal demand for energy will increase by almost 50% by the year 2040. Some of that demand is expected to be met by renewables, but a greater portion is likely to come from fossil fuels; oil, coal, and natural gas. Most of this growth in energy demand will be led by the developing world, where over a billion people still don’t have access to electricity.

Can global energy consumption be reduced? Or, if that is impractical, could the increase in demand at least be slowed? Could increased energy efficiency and smart technology (as well as switching to cleaner sources of energy, such as renewables) help to drive down the world’s energy bill?

We had a comment sent in from Fiona, who believes that people need to change their lifestyles to live more sustainably – which means consuming less of everything (including less energy). If she’s right, then people will have to live simpler lives, scaling back their expectations of everything from transportation to the kind of goods they consume.

Is such a dramatic change in lifestyles the only way to cut energy consumption to sustainable levels? To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Hugo-Maria Schally, Head of Unit of DG Environment (Eco-Innovation & Circular Economy) at the European Commission. How would he respond?

schallyI think that the challenge is to give people a lifestyle that makes them feel comfortable, and that means they need to be able to keep some of the functionalities that they currently have. They need to be offered a choice of a range of products and services that allows them to consume less energy whilst still having access to the functionalities and amenities that they want to in their current lifestyle. I don’t think people across Europe are ready, in the majority, for a radical change in lifestyle.

For another perspective, we put the same comment to Verena Brennan, Energy Awareness Manager at Codema, an agency set up by Dublin City Council in 1997 to help the Irish capital meet its energy efficiency targets. What would she say?

brennanI suppose it depends on the lifestyle. Living sustainably incorporates all aspects of life – from making sustainable food choices, reducing your carbon footprint by using zero-carbon transport modes to reducing your energy consumption at home. If someone travels to work by car every day, they can reduce their carbon footprint by switching to an electric or hybrid car. However if they want to make a real difference, they should switch to public transport or cycling. This might seem like a simple change to us but could be considered quite a lifestyle change to that person as the majority of his time was previously spent in a car.

When it comes to energy, I don’t think that it takes major lifestyle changes to use less energy. Simple changes in your daily habits can already help you save. By running your dishwasher and washing machine on lower temperatures or eco-mode, a lot of energy can be saved. Equally an adjustment to your room thermostat can achieve big energy savings as we use over 60% of energy at home on heating. Rather than wearing a t-shirt in a home that is heated to 22°C, we can put on a cardigan or jumper and reduce the temperature to 20°C. I would not consider this a big lifestyle change but rather small changes in habits.

Next up, we had a comment from Enrique, who suggested that a range of new technologies that improve energy efficiency could be the secret to getting people to use less energy (potentially without having such a dramatic impact on lifestyles). Does Hugo-Maria Schally agree?

schallyYes, innovation and technology is key to making a transition to more sustainable lifestyles. But we have to be careful, because what can be beneficial in the context of energy efficiency, such as the use of composite and lightweight materials, can actually create a lot of problems with regard to recyclability and waste.

Finally, we had a critical comment from Philippa. She believes that “accessing cheap reliable energy is crucial to living in the Industrial and Technological Age that has lifted billions of people out of poverty, improved health and enabled billions of people to thrive… The idea of encouraging people to use less energy is barbaric when in reality more energy needs to be produced to enable 2 billion people who live without electricity.”

In other words, Philippa believes we shouldn’t be trying to cut energy consumption, but rather boost it across the world. What would Hugo-Maria Schally say to that?

schallyI would say it depends on what kind of energy we’re talking about. Yes, we need more energy produced from renewables. We need more solar energy, more wind energy, more geo-thermal energy. I think it’s wrong to continue to ask for more energy from traditional sources such as fossil sources. Because that will not create prosperity and well-being for people worldwide, given the link to climate change, resource depletion, and other forms of environmental harm that is going to be done. So, I think the answer to her question is: ‘Yes and no’. Yes, we actually need energy to go to a decarbonised society. We need more energy to operate innovation and change. No, we don’t need more of the energy that we currently have in its majority coming from fossil fuels.

Finally, what about Verena Brennan? How would she respond to Philippa’s criticism?

brennanI would tell her that this is not true. Would you call it ‘barbaric’ to reduce your thermostat from 21 to 20°C? We are not asking people to not switch on their heating at all, but small changes like bleeding your radiators regularly can already make a big difference, especially in Ireland where 85% of energy is currently being imported. Yes, we do need to produce more clean energy ourselves but in a first instance, it is important to reduce a households’ energy demand through behavioural change and investment in energy efficiency upgrades and insulation.

Once the demand has been reduced, we can look at covering this demand with renewable energy sources. There is an imbalance in the energy distribution across the globe, no doubt! In the western world we live very wasteful lifestyles. Whether we consider ourselves ‘sustainable’ or not, we will always use more energy and water than some entire villages in Africa or Asia. This is not easily changed whether we produce more clean energy or not, the distribution of this energy will most likely always be unequal and thus not reach those people that need it the most. However, having to conserve energy is certainly a problem of the western world. It is done automatically in poorer countries where energy is a precious resource similar to water. There is great potential to create energy prosumers across the globe and we need to ensure that technological advancements travel to those countries most in need.

How do we get people to consume less energy? Do we need to change our lifestyles, or could technology and innovation provide solutions? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

This debate is part of the SHAPE ENERGY project. By participating you are confirming you are 18+. Contributions to the debate may be directly quoted (anonymously) in the SHAPE ENERGY reports. If you do not want your contribution to be used, send us an email within two weeks of posting your comment.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 731264.

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49 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Daniel Parvanov

    By making it easy to produce for themselves… Solars grow in EU but it is mostly in solar parks, When it get wide spread on people’s houses they will consume close to zero (or even return in the grid) during when energy is needed for the industry ….

    • Nanko Le Flibustier

      Because they earn money from solar parks…..And have to pay to the people who returns it to the grid. ;)

  2. Stefania Portici

    cosa si dovrebbe rispondere qui ? L’energia , le fonti energetiche pulite innovative ci stanno ,come anche i materiali delle abitazioni per avere confort con meno energia , vanno solo applicate ma il problema dell’acqua potabile ( GRATUITA perchè l’acqua è un bene primario per l’uomo e non può esserci speculazione sopra ) in alcuni Paesi del mondo hanno il problema dell’acqua , credo vada risolto . Se stanno bene loro, stiamo bene anche noi altrimenti si crea masse di gente che si spostano per l’acqua creando problemi anche alla nostra società

  3. Michael Michał Gajos

    That’s a wrong question asked. Civilization will always consume more and more energy. the quetion is, what can we do to develop high-capacity, green energy sources?

    • Sebastian Wójtowicz

      if we spend less money on debates and more in energy develoop, maybe there will be no problem at all

  4. Alex Pilafian

    MOTHER FUCKING BUILD LFTR. Look it up. Solves the world’s energy problems. Completely safe. Recyclable fissile material.

  5. Wojciech Małecki

    It’s not a matter of consumption of energy – it’s only a matter of prices – and these are always too high to satisfy greed of parasites thriving on societies.

  6. Francisco Solano

    I would say create affordable solar programs Wind / Sun etc etc. Educate the people. Mother earth is very sick right now.

  7. Jan Ul

    maybe to close them in a concentration camp and reeducate? EU (a new USSR) surely would do it professionally

  8. Nadia Dereguardati

    by improving the devices, improving the resources, by allowing each Citizen to detain his/her own source od energy, very simple.

    • Nadia Dereguardati

      but politicians and ruling leaders hate and do not want to see Cctizen being free from fees..!!!

  9. Oli Lau

    why should they consume less? and why it should be the business of the state?

  10. Sasha Naronin

    If we use efficient modern energy sources the need for that will disappear.
    Who cares how much we consume when almost all of it comes from clean, efficient and virtually inexhaustible energy source?

  11. Dark Doomer

    you don’t. you need power for everything. making it still affordable and more ecological is your problem, not the consumer’s.
    now leave facebook and go back to work.protip: start by closing all coal powerplants and replace them by a couple of nuclear powerplants.

  12. Paul Funk

    Education is everything! People have to realize there are NO others, WE are ALL in it TOGETHER!
    Planet Earth is a closed ecosystem, everything is connected.
    The way one consumes is politics, you make a choice. If it’s good everyone profits. if only the 1% profit it’s bad ..
    Only way to change is a radical change of consumer behaviour/ mentality. Half less of everything and most of us will still live as kings.
    Less meat, less fashion, less plastic crap, less golfcourses, more citygardens, less driving your car (share a ride, walk, bicycle), act responsible with water, electricity, Go solar/ wind, recycle, Eat REAL food (no invert sugar/ palmfat etc.), buy local vegetables/ fruit and fabricated products, buy at Pops & Mom stores etc. Organize, Resist, Listen to each other not to reply but to understand.

    • Pop Roger

      idiot commie cant comprehend economics, typical

  13. Sara Wolowa

    make solar plants and passive houses mandatory everywhere (energy saving cuts costs and pollution)

    • Pop Roger

      solar plants are not efficient and cause harmful polutions too; namely gallium and arsenic

  14. Filipe Nunes

    Why don’t you consume less energy? Why don’t EU commissioners use electric cars? Why aren’t there solar panels on the roofs of EU buildings? Want people to consume less? Lead by example!

  15. Dimitris Stamiris

    we dont need less energy , we need 12volts homes !!!!
    think 12v untill 220v , thats low cost and energy , we all need to change all our electrics but we will have our money back soon

  16. EU Reform- Proactive

    The given: a consumer society & ever growing economy. Which shade of green living? Greenwashing or brainwashing?

    What to support: “green” consumerism, market enticed consumerism, sustainable development; containment of personal greed, comforts & freedom of choices? More personal discipline, limitless options- restricted by personal affordability (for the super rich, more than the poorer). Avoidable or unavoidable: innovation, automation, job creation, job security, economic growth- population growth, corporate greed & profit growth? All are very complex issues, contradictions & oxymoron’s.

    These series of short articles is worth a read:
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/green-consumerism-contradiction.htm

    More relevant maybe: (self) education, more political & corporate honesty & leadership? Example: Running two EU parliaments & other (political) excesses?

    Political talk is cheap- to make others feel guilty!

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