The government has a crucial opportunity to help people find ways to save energy as heating and power bills rise significantly this autumn and winter. That is the key message from experts urging the government to intervene with campaigns that would provide guidance on how to cut energy bills.
“We have a great window of opportunity,” said Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, director of Bath University’s Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations. “Lots of things influence people’s decisions about energy use. Financial considerations are definitely one. So telling people directly how they can save money and putting specific sums to actions is going to be more effective than talking in relatively abstract terms about cost saving.”
Whitmarsh stressed that people are now very focused on rising energy costs and likely to be highly receptive to suggestions on how to save power. “In addition, some measures – like improving insulation – may take time to implement, so we need to act now.”
Whitmarsh highlighted two previous campaigns that had differing impacts on changing people’s behaviour: getting them to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and the strategy to put calorie information on restaurant menus.
“The five-a-day campaign has been relatively ineffective because it did not target people when they were actually making decisions to buy food,” she said. “They may have read about the value of eating fruit and veg but when in a supermarket many other factors – price, taste and other issues – confuse their choices.
“By contrast, putting calorie data on menus provided key information at just the right time – when a person is about to choose what she or he wants to eat. In short, timing is crucial.”
Using smart meters to monitor electricity use when boiling a kettle or using an oven would therefore give the same kind of immediate feedback that will be crucial in cutting bills. “On the other hand, letting people know that by simply using the minimum amount of water in a kettle – instead of boiling a full one every time you want a cup of tea – makes a difference to your bills.”
Whitmarsh is very critical of the government’s decision not to launch any energy-saving campaigns. “Offering advice is the very minimum the government should be doing. In fact, they should be going much further and giving significant discounts on insulation and things like that.
“People expect leadership from ministers, and if they don’t provide that it suggests the government is not really taking this issue seriously, so why should the public bother?”