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.


118 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

    • Hugh Gardner

      Drinking water is very important for the reasons you state but that is another debate

  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.

    • Hugh Gardner

      The only way to control consumption is with high energy prices. The tax revenue raised could be used for public services or renewable subsidies.

  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..!!!

    • Hugh Gardner

      Are you volunteering to be eliminated?

  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?

    • Hugh Gardner

      Sorry. there is no such thing. Renewables have their own environmental impact.

  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:

    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!

  17. Tarquin Farquhar

    We should stop buying German goods!

    German vacuum cleaners use more energy than say many competitors.
    German cars use more fuel than say Japanese ones.

  18. Dóris Cavalcanti

    What about stopping population growth like in Africa where the population will more than double until 2050???

    • Vivien Watson Toft

      No, it probably won’t, Doris. there will be ‘infilling’ as more of the ‘peak child’ kiddies born just after the turn of the century survive, than did their parents. But a doubling is highly unlikely. the world population growth rate has been stabilising since 1962, and is likely to begin a very slow decrease by around 2030.

    • Christina Linza Itkonen

      Why are you complaining about Africa in a post about EU energy efficiency?

    • Dóris Cavalcanti

      Christina Linza Itkonen You didn’t read the article or didn’t understand it. It starts saying “GLOBAL demand for energy will increase by almost 50% by the year 2040.” – Africa population will be more than half of the world population. Africa survives by contribution mostly from EU-USA and others.

      Even if the article were only about Europe, africans have and will immigrate more and more to Europe! Do you think things will become better in Europe regardless the population growth in Africa???

      Since 2013, the number of immigrants per year has been more than 1 million and increasing (2014 it was 1.7 million!), Germany alone received 1.5 million in 2015!

      This is an interesting study which shows how it was 10 years ago, then multiply at least per 2 or 3 today and per at least per 10 in more 30 years, and you’ll have an idea of the problem.

  19. Jean Charles Branco

    people dont need to save energy, the sun give free energy evryday we dont need to save it, we need to remove the buisness of energy from big companys to have free and clean energy. support ur local nacionalist party to have energy for all for free

  20. Sara Wolowa

    make (thermal and photovoltaic) solar plant mandatory (it can also help reducing poverty) for private houses, schools, hospitals, shopping centers, sport facilities and factories. make mandatory the construction of energy saving building (reducing energy costs and pollution). Important can also be the use of rain water e.g. for the toilettes. study and compare public lighting and public transportation (very old busses). public guidelines on these subjects.

  21. Elena Rossi

    What about obliging all shops and supermarkets to turn off their lights during the night or when they are closed? I see many places where this doesn’t happen, and that’s s huge waste of energy

    • Roger Hewitt

      Totally agree about shop lights, Elena! In UK there are more and more huge advertising boards being converted to tv screens. I suppose they save employing people to paste up new posters, but the energy required must be quite considerable, however efficient the screens may be.

    • Elena Rossi

      Indeed Roger! There are a few like that here too.. They are always on,. night and day!

    • Roger Hewitt

      … although I know some of them have solar panels to help power them.

  22. Paweł Kunio

    Your masterplan with lightbulbs didnt work. I despise eu for this. They give shittier light than the traditional ones. You might convince them they should consume less energy if they will be at the same time saving their own money on this. As long as this doesnt go hand in hand with their savings noone will give a monkeys ass about this.

    • Daniel Parvanov

      If you send them to re educational camps how lefties (cultural marxist ideology indoctrinated ones) believe they will need no energy ….

  23. Ruairí Hallissey

    Realistic alternatives like nuclear as well as consideration of potentially unpopular polices like sanctioning the use of cars or wasteful kinds of electronics.

  24. Viorika Motoi

    Change oll the machine industria of cars in a electric industia to bild only electrical cars ,putet in ol wold solars plants ,reform the sistem of the recicling water in oll world and startet this tomorw y don,t letit at the big monopolio at the bigest richest to o have oll the pawer in his hand ,the soon is for oll of as.

  25. Daniel Parvanov

    I consume less than 1Kw per hour most of the time as main expense is Airconditioner (peak to 700 W) 65 w TV 40 W for laptop, up to 40W lighting (usually 11, 2 x 5.5 LED ), for short periods up couple of hours i need several KW for water heating (night tariff usually) and cooking … If I had 5 Kw array cheaply I can satisfy all my energy need not buying from the grid during the day even in 20% capacity ….

  26. Franck Legon

    Best way to consume less energy is hosting less people, not more and more imigrants to support the financial growth for the richests fews’ profits.

  27. Erik Jakub Citterberg

    Don’t. Just do not. That is futile. For every kW you save they will come up with a new way to use it. Invest in renewable and development of technology.

    It is wrong on so many levels to regulate consumption. We, as a society, should be better than that

  28. Simon Sadler

    What annoys me very much, living in Spain is the excessive use of Air-conditioning both in buildings and vehicles,always set to minimum ! At the same time an inordinate amount of electricity is used to heat water in buildings.The Spanish Gov seem to offer no grants for solar systems.What is needed , and I worked for a company that actually made suitable equipment,is awater reservoir to store the heat normally dumped by A/C units in the summer,and to provide a source of heat for the A/C when it’s used in reverse mode i.e. heating, during the cooler months,plus low cost solar systems both photo voltaic and water to make up the deficit.From what I have seen the systems available now are such a ‘ripoff ‘ I have a homemade water solar system which from late April to late September gives me a store of 200 litres of domestic hot water from 55 to 70 o C.

  29. Medman Vita

    Europe has so many geniouses on the pay role, why not ask them???. When things fu k up europenaskes the people!!!!! Cnarming….

  30. Lynne Warner

    Solar street lighting and stop selling us expensive so called 10 yr guaranteed bulbs from.China that pop in a matter of months. Where is all that waste going?????

  31. Derek Warner

    Zim has installed a lot of solar street lighting in the last year, its very expensive and needs double the number of lights for a given lumen coverage. What is being seen is despite the very good insolation we enjoy here they are only lasting a couple of hours a night and many units do not even come on, so very patchy lighting at best!!

    • Lynne Warner

      That’s odd. Spains highways and many street lights are solar and we seem to have no problem with them. However I honestly don’t know the intricacies of it all and can only comment from what I have observed.

    • Derek Warner

      Interesting! Could be our systems are part of a scam deal so we don’t have the quality we need!! They look the part but knowing Africa who knows!!!

  32. Quartz

    Just shift fossil fuel subsidies to efficiency programs and renewables.

  33. Janet Anderson

    Apart from the use of more solar energy, I would recommend pepole in Western countries just consume less!! Use public transport, sell your car, walk every so often (epsecially school children!!). I expect many of us could eat less, then saving on cooking.

  34. Viktor Plhak

    Logically? No taxes on saver bulbs and etc. But in favor of EU more probably, of course restrictions, punishment etc.

  35. Enric Mestres Girbal

    Why to consum less energy? Why don’t implant more clean energy across Europe? In Spain we must pay to produce our own solar or wind to favour the big electric companies.

    • Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

      The same thing in Greece you have to have a company to be allowed to produce solar energy even if it is for your own use! !!

  36. Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    1) invest in technology that is less energy consuming like ” led” lights or ” inventor ” electric machines ( like air-conditions)
    2) invest in making buildings having less energy looses which means less energy will be consumed for air conditioning
    3) allow people to produce their own energy. Now days is almost forbidden to use solar energy for your own use it’s sad personally speaking i live in one of the most sunny countries in Europe and i can’t use that gods gift to power my house. .
    4) zombie consumption why on earth is still exist?
    5) training the public to be more responsible

  37. Faddi Zsolt

    It’s not the people who are consuming much energy! The companies has to produce things and gadgets that lasts forever, and not only a few years! The companies should be punished for the overproduction of useless stuff!

  38. Ivan Burrows


    ‘Europe’ reduces by 1% per year against China growth of 7% per year makes it a meaningless reduction.

    Businesses use around 70% of all energy so in any system where growth is required trying to reduce domestic use is pointless as it will quickly be taken up by the global business side of the equation.

    So any reduction must come from the business side and the public must accept the consequences

  39. Joseph Krukowski

    By promoting smart street lighting – there is no need to illuminate emty roads where no cars or people are moving. Most cities still use cheaper sodium vapour lamps which come in most popular power of 70W, 150W and 250W ratings. One average sized city could save couple MW per hour by investing in LED and smart street lights. Domestic consumptions doesn’t grow in Europe. Consumer electronics are becomming more energy efficient.

  40. Marios Stamatiou

    I think that a good idea would be the compulsary installation of smart electricity meters that indicate in real time the usage and the cost of electricity for each household. I quess some smart person could develop a smart meter that can be installed in the substations/transformers which would be linked to the internet and would send data to the users instead of each house having their own

    • Felix Dzerzhinsky

      Move to fucking Cuba. Socialist. We don’t need central planners here in Europe. We’re sick of that shit. This ain’t a fucking third world hellhole with a marauding clan as ‘leader’. Although the EU is doing all it can to revive the fucking DDR.

  41. Felix Dzerzhinsky

    We don’t need to consume less. We need more energy. Thorium plants. And freedom to choose what kind of energy you want as an individual. And storage would be great as well.

  42. Michał Plotta

    Powinniśmy używać więcej energii, wysokowydajne jej spożytkowanie powinno powodować spadek jej kosztów ale energia = dobrobyt i pokój

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