Empowering People: How Awareness and Behavior Campaigns Can Help Citizens Save Energy During and Beyond the Current Energy Crisis – Analysis

Crisis situations create particular challenges for energy systems and also change the types of messages and campaigns that might be most effective. When energy is in the news, and when the change in behavior brings an immediate and directly visible benefit (increased comfort, lower costs, reduced risk of breakdowns), campaigns can be stronger by calling for action collective and go further in what is asked of people.

Many countries already have experience in developing and launching citizen campaigns in response to energy supply crises. For example, after an earthquake struck its northeast coast in March 2022, Japan launched a campaign encouraging businesses, utilities and citizens to drastically reduce energy. In one day, electricity demand savings reached 6.5% in the Kanto region. In the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a demand reduction campaign drew on a whole-of-society response based on a call for solidarity and shared action. The campaign focused on “setsuden”, or electricity savings, to unite the country in its response to the crisis. The government launched the “Super Cool Biz” campaign to urge workers to dress in cooler outfits to better tolerate the hotter offices during the summer. Not only were there large immediate reductions in energy consumption, but much of the efficiency gains were sustained for many years beyond the initial crisis.

In 2018, the Day Zero campaign in South Africa prepared the citizens of Cape Town for an anticipated water scarcity crisis, asking people to consume less water to avoid a city-wide water cut. . The city ran an effective communications campaign that focused on inclusiveness, relying on behavioral incentives, rather than relying solely on restrictions and fines. According to research conducted during the crisis by the Environmental Economics Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at the University of Cape Town, people were more likely to conserve water knowing they were working towards a common goal. The Cape Town water map, an example of the so-called ‘green boost’, openly showed the range of household water use and allowed comparison with neighbours.

New Zealand, which generates much of its electricity from hydropower, experienced a power shortage during a drought in 2008. A government-led information campaign, which targeted both residential and small commercial sectors, resulted in national electricity savings ranging from 3.6% to 6.9%. In Korea, a campaign in response to the energy supply crisis caused by a heat wave in 2011, affected 1.5 million households, reducing electricity demand by 2% compared to the previous year.

Many crisis campaigns address the risks of short-term outages, such as when power systems reach capacity limits, as seen recently in the United States, Japan and elsewhere. Effective communication is key to encouraging short-term behavior change, i.e. turning things off. In Australia, the Limit Your Powershop Power The demand response program relied on volunteers with smart meters installed to reduce energy consumption before an extreme weather event. Notified by SMS, households were asked to reduce their energy consumption for one to four hours and were offered a reduction on the next electricity bill. Such prompts are not uncommon, although the messages often tend to evolve into a more social collective action narrative. This is especially true in the case of campaigns aimed at changing behavior over a longer period of time, rather than just an immediate supply shortage.

Many of the recent examples mentioned in this note are set against the current backdrop of high prices and security concerns arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, such as the “Stand with Ukraine: Let’s stop fueling war” campaign. which presents the insulation of houses as a direct protest action. Campaigns launched by Member States and the IEA/European Commission’s Playing My Part highlight the need to reduce dependence on Russian energy and thus support the Ukrainian people. In times of crisis, energy saving becomes for many an example of citizen activism.

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