"Renewable electricity generation increased rapidly in the last few years. It has risen from three per cent of power generation in 2000 to 19 per cent in 2014. At the same time, the UK has also made significant progress with energy efficiency which can go much further. But as a nation, compared to many other northern European countries, our level of energy efficiency (especially in homes) is currently much lower. Our housing stock is comparatively poor – and much more could be done to improve it," says Professor Watson.
In terms of changing behaviours, he says that relatively new technologies like smart meters can help reduce energy consumption, but while some people may be 'early adopters' of such technologies, others will simply be uninterested. For those currently uninterested, where the opportunity still exists, they might be better off doing the cheapest things first such as insulation, whereas for other households, smart technologies could help motivate them to act.
"At the moment the obvious things to have installed are cavity walls and loft insulation which is often low cost and has historically been free to many customers due to government and utility programmes. Shifting to energy-efficient lighting, or investing in high-efficiency appliances when they are being replaced, will also help, whilst more expensive measures include double glazing, upgrades to older central heating boilers and newer measures such as external/internal wall insulation – which can be very costly," says Professor Watson.
So, are current government policies persuasive enough to make us change our habits? Professor Watson believes it's a question of how good policy is: "Policies for energy efficiency got stronger and more effective since 2000 – though that trend reversed in the last two years because the recently cancelled Green Deal policy failed to deliver the energy savings the previous government wanted it to. It was a poorly designed policy. So, for me, a key question for the new government is what policies will be put in place instead of Green Deal – and whether these will be more effective."
In this day and age energy and mobility are taken for granted by most people in developed nations who see the ability to heat and light a home, and to drive or take public transport, as a right rather than a luxury. So how can policymakers and other organisations change this view so that instead of producing more energy because we’re consuming more, we learn to use less?
Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, Elizabeth Shove, believes policymakers and other organisations have to "acknowledge their own role in making and shaping future possibilities". She says: "A first step is to recognise the very many ways in which policymakers are involved in making and sustaining contemporary ways of life and the patterns of energy demand and mobility associated with them. This takes different forms: For example, in designing programmes and investments that deliver 'the same' service, but with fewer resources, advocates of energy efficiency perpetuate and do not question what are taken to be 'normal' standards."
Professor Shove continues: "In addition, areas of policy like those relating to working life or health care have implications for how daily lives are organised, for what people do and for where they go: all of which translate into energy demand."
Professor Shove says that the policy challenge is not that of teaching people to cut back, as if this was a matter of personal choice, but of grasping opportunities to configure institutions and infrastructures such that they both suppose and enable lower carbon ways of living.
"What people now take to be normal has a short history: the status quo will not last forever. The prize, for policymakers and other organisations, is to acknowledge their own role in making and shaping future possibilities and in actively working to establish ways of living, working and having fun that are different and radically less resource-demanding than those with which we are familiar today."