Energy Efficiency

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 335–353 | Cite as

What role for microgeneration in a shift to a low carbon domestic energy sector in the UK?

  • Noam Bergman
  • Nick Eyre


Domestic energy use accounts for more than a quarter of CO2 emissions in the UK. Traditional approaches to energy reduction look at direct emissions savings, and recommend insulation and efficiency as more cost-effective than microgeneration. However, microgeneration has indirect, ‘soft’ benefits and could play a significant role in emissions reduction. Current uptake of microgeneration in the UK is low, with various barriers—economic, technical, cultural, behavioural and institutional—both to uptake and to maximising energy and emissions savings once installed. Subsidies and spreading information alone do not guarantee maximising uptake, and even if successful, this is not enough to maximise savings. The industry focuses on maximising sales, with no incentives to ensure best installations and use; householders do not have access to the best information, and user behaviour does not maximise energy and emission savings. This is related to a broader state of socio-technical ‘lock-in’ in domestic energy use; there’s a lack of connection between personal behaviour and energy consumption, let alone global climate change. This suggests that a major cultural–behavioural shift is needed to reduce energy/emissions in the home. Transition theory and strategic niche management provide insights into possible systemic change and a suitable framework for future policies, such as supporting a variety of radically innovative niches, both technological and social. Microgeneration, properly employed, has the potential to play a part in such a transition by increasing awareness and energy literacy and empowering people to seriously engage in energy debates as producers, as well as consumers, of energy. This deeper understanding and heightened responsibility are crucial in a shift toward bottom-up emission-reducing behaviour change and better acceptance of top-down energy-saving policy measures, as part of a new domestic energy paradigm. The implications for policy are that, as well as supporting the technologies, it needs to support existing niches and to develop new niche experiments. Policy needs to consider how to promote empowerment and responsibility and support or even develop new energy sector models; this will involve a range of stakeholders and multiple governance levels, not just national incentive schemes.


Microgeneration Domestic energy Behaviour Transition Socio-technical regime Niches Strategic niche management 



Carbon Emissions Reductions Target


Combined heat and power


Feed-in tariffs


Low Carbon Buildings Programme


Photovoltaic cells


Strategic niche management


Strategic Policy Niche Management


Virtual power plant


  1. Allegra Strategies. (2006). Project renew: UK consumer perspectives on renewable energy—strategic analysis. London: Allegra Strategies.Google Scholar
  2. Arthur, W. B. (1989). Competing technologies, increasing returns, and lock-in by historical events. The Economic Journal, 99, 116–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banks, N. (2001). Socio-technical networks and the sad case of the condensing boiler. In P. Bertoldi, A. Ricci, & A. T. de Almeida (Eds.), Energy efficiency in household appliances and lighting. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  4. Bergman, N., Hawkes, A., Brett, D. J. L., Baker, P., Barton, J., Blanchard, R., et al. (2009). UK microgeneration. Part I: policy and behavioural aspects. Energy, 162(1), 23–36.Google Scholar
  5. Bergman, N., Jardine, C. (2009). Power from the people: domestic microgeneration and the Low Carbon Building Programme, ECI Research Report 34. University of Oxford, Environmental Change Institute. Available from:
  6. Bergman, N., Whitmarsh, L., Köhler, J., Haxeltine, A., Schilperoord, M. (2007). Assessing transitions to sustainable housing and communities in the UK. International conference on whole life urban sustainability and its assessment, Glasgow.Google Scholar
  7. Bibbings, J. (2006). Powerhouses? Widening microgeneration in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Consumer Council.Google Scholar
  8. BMU. (2010). Development of renewable energy sources in Germany 2009. Berlin: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).Google Scholar
  9. Boardman, B. (2007). Home Truths: a low-carbon strategy to reduce UK housing emissions by 80% by 2050. Oxford: Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  10. Brignall, M. (2010). Free solar panels sound good, but buying them yourself is better. The guardian. Accessed 20 Oct 2010.
  11. Brown, M. A. (2001). Market failures and barriers as a basis for clean energy policies. Energy Policy, 29(14), 1197–1207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Caird, S., Roy, R., & Herring, H. (2008). Improving the energy performance of UK households: results from surveys of consumer adoption and use of low- and zero-carbon technologies. Energy Efficiency, 1(2), 149–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crompton, T. (2008). Weathercocks and signposts: the environment movement at a crossroads. Godalming: WWF-UK.Google Scholar
  14. Crosbie, T., & Baker, K. (2010). Energy-efficiency interventions in housing: learning from the inhabitants. Building Research & Information, 38(1), 70–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Darby, S. (2006). The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption. A review for Defra of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays. Oxford: Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
  16. Darnton, A., Elster-Jones, J., Lucas, K., & Brooks, M. (2006). Promoting pro-environmental behaviour: existing evidence to inform better policy making. London: Defra.Google Scholar
  17. DECC. (2009a). Digest of United Kingdom energy statistics 2009. London: Department of Energy and Climate Change.Google Scholar
  18. DECC. (2009b). The UK renewable energy strategy. London: Department of Energy and Climate Change.Google Scholar
  19. DECC (2010) Energy consumption in the UK. London, Department of Energy and Climate Change.
  20. Defra (2008a). Carbon dioxide emissions by end user: 1990–2006—United Kingdom. e-Digest statistics about climate change. Accessed 13 Jan 2009.
  21. Defra. (2008b). A framework for understanding pro-environmental behaviours. London: Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.Google Scholar
  22. Devine-Wright, P. (2007). Reconsidering public attitudes and public acceptance of renewable technologies: a critical review. Working paper 1.4 of the research project "Beyond Nimbyism: a multi-disciplinary approach investigation of public engagement with renewable energy technologies". Manchester: School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester.Google Scholar
  23. Devine-Wright, H. and Devine-Wright, P. (2005). Representing the demand side: ‘deficit’ beliefs about domestic electricity users. In: Bartiaux, F. and Selnaes, A. G. (eds) ECEEE 2005 Summer Study Proceedings. European Council for an energy efficient economy, Mandelieu, France, 2005, pp. 1343–1348.Google Scholar
  24. Dobbyn, J., & Thomas, G. (2005). Seeing the light: the impact of micro-generation on our use of energy. London: Sustainable Consumption Roundtable.Google Scholar
  25. DTI. (2006). Our energy challenge: power from the people. Microgeneration strategy. London: Department of Trade and Industry.Google Scholar
  26. Energy, E. (2008). The growth potential for microgeneration in England. Cambridge: Wales and Scotland.Google Scholar
  27. Energy Saving Trust, Element Energy, & E-Connect. (2005). The Potential for Microgeneration in the UK: Study and Analysis. London: Department of Trade and Industry.Google Scholar
  28. Eyre, N. (1997). Barriers to energy efficiency: more than just market failure. Energy and Environment, 8(1), 25–43.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  29. Eyre, N. (2004) Micro-CHP, energy services and smart metering—technological innovation and systemic change. In: Micro energy systems. London: Institute of Mechanical Engineering.Google Scholar
  30. Eyre, N., Anable, J., Brand, C., Layberry, R., & Strachan, N. (2010). The way we live from now on: lifestyle and energy consumption. In P. Ekins, J. Skea, & M. Winskel (Eds.), Energy 2050: the transition to a secure low carbon energy system for the UK. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  31. Geels, F. W. (2002). Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research Policy, 31, 1257–1274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Geels, F. W. (2005a). Processes and patterns in transitions and system innovations: refining the co-evolutionary multi-level perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 72(6), 681–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Geels, F. W. (2005b). Technological transitions and system innovation: a coevolutionary and socio-technical analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  34. Genus, A. (2008). Changing the rules? Regimes, niches and the transition to microgeneration. DIME international conference: “Innovation, sustainability and policy”, Bordeaux, France.Google Scholar
  35. GIBC. (2010). Green Investment Bank Commission. Unlocking investment to deliver Britain’s low carbon future. London: Green Investment Bank Commission.Google Scholar
  36. Haas, R., Ornetzeder, M., Hametner, K., Wrobleski, A., & Hubner, M. (1999). Socio-economic aspects of the Autsrian 200 kWp-photovoltaic-rooftop programme. Solar Energy, 66(3), 183–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hegger, D. L. T., Van Vliet, J., & Van Vliet, B. J. M. (2007). Niche management and its contribution to regime change: the case of innovation in sanitation. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 19(6), 729–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hill, F. (2009). Consumer impacts on dividends from solar water heating, school of computing and technology. MSc thesis, University of East London, London.Google Scholar
  39. Hill, F., Lynch, H. Levermore, G. (2010). Consumer impacts on dividends from solar water heating. Energy Efficiency (in press)Google Scholar
  40. HMT (2010) HM Treasury. Spending review statement, 20th October 2010. Accessed 25 Oct 2010.
  41. HMT and DECC (2010). HM Treasury and Department of Energy and Climate Change. London: Energy Market Assessment.Google Scholar
  42. Ieromonachou, P., Potter, S., & Enoch, M. (2004). Adapting strategic niche management for evaluating radical transport policies––the case of the Durham Road Access Charging Scheme. International Journal of Transport Management, 2, 75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jackson, T. (2004). Motivating sustainable consumption—a review of evidence on consumer behaviour and behaviour change. A report to the Sustainable Development Research Network. London: Policy Studies Institute.Google Scholar
  44. Jager, W. (2006). Stimulating the diffusion of photovoltaic systems: a behavioural perspective. Energy Policy, 34, 1935–1943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Janda, K. (2007). Turning solar consumers into solar citizens: strategies for wise energy use. American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Annual Meeting, Cleveland.Google Scholar
  46. Keirstead, J. (2007). Behavioural responses to photovoltaic systems in the UK domestic sector. Energy Policy, 35, 4128–4141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Killip, G. (2008). Building a greener Britain: transforming the UK’s existing housing stock. ECI client report for Federation of Master Builders. London: Federation of Master Builders.Google Scholar
  48. Renewables, L. (2003). Attitudes to renewable energy in London: public and stakeholder opinion and the scope for progress. London: Greater London Authority.Google Scholar
  49. Loorbach, D., & Rotmans, J. (2006). Managing transitions for sustainable development. In X. Olshoorn & A. J. Wieczorek (Eds.), Understanding industrial transformation: views from different disciplines. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  50. MCS (2010) Microgeneration Certification Scheme. Microgeneration installation standard: MIS 3001. Accessed 2 Sep 2010.
  51. Mitchell, C., Bauknecht, D., & Connor, P. M. (2006). Effectiveness through risk reduction: a comparison of the renewable obligation in England and Wales and the feed-in system in Germany. Energy Policy, 34(3), 297–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mitchell, C., & Connor, P. (2004). Renewable energy policy in the UK 1990-2003. Energy Policy, 32, 1935–1947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ofgem (2009) Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP) Accessed 20 Oct 2010.
  54. Ofgem. (2010). Project discovery Options for delivering secure and sustainable energy supplies. London: Ofgem.Google Scholar
  55. Oreszczyn, T., & Lowe, R. J. (2010). Thoughts on energy and buildings research in the UK: objectives, methods and funding mechanisms. Building Research and Information, 38(1), 107–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Oxera. (2006). Policies for energy efficiency in the UK household sector. Oxford: Oxera Consulting Ltd.Google Scholar
  57. Praetorius, B., Sauters, R., & Watson, J. (2008). On the dynamics of microgeneration diffusion in Germany and the UK. In T. J. Foxon, J. Köhler, & C. Oughton (Eds.), Innovation for a low carbon economy: economic, institutional and management approaches. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  58. Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  59. Rotmans, J., Kemp, R., & van Asselt, M. (2001). More evolution than revolution: transition management in public foreign policy. Foresight, 3(1), 15–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sanstad, A. H., & Howarth, R. B. (1994). "Normal" markets, market imperfections and energy efficiency. Energy Policy, 22(10), 811–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sauter, R., & Watson, J. (2007). Strategies for the deployment of micro-generation: implications for social acceptance. Energy Policy, 35, 2770–2779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shove, E. (1998). Gaps, barriers and conceptual chasms: theories of technological transfer and energy in buildings. Energy Policy, 26(15), 1105–1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Smith, A. (2005). Supporting and harnessing diversity? Experiments in alternative technology. Final research report to the Economic and Social Research Council. Brighton: SPRU—Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.Google Scholar
  64. Smith, A. (2006). Governance lessons from green niches: the case of eco-housing. In J. Murphy (Ed.), Framing the present, shaping the future: contemporary governance of sustainable technologies. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  65. Smith, A. (2007). Translating sustainabilities between green niches and socio-technical regimes. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 19(4), 427–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Smith, A., Stirling, A., & Berkhout, F. (2005). The governance of sustainable socio-technical transitions. Research Policy, 34(10), 1491–1510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. St John Cox, C. (2006). Compliance with Part L1 of the 2002 building regulations (an investigation into the reasons for poor compliance). Didcot: Future Energy Solutions.Google Scholar
  68. Staffell, I., Baker, P., Barton, J., Bergman, N., Blanchard, R., Brandon, N. P., et al. (2010). UK microgeneration. Part II: technology overviews. Energy (in press).Google Scholar
  69. Toffler, A. (1980). The third wave. New York: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  70. UKERC. (2010). UK Energy Research Centre response to the DECC consultation on the proposed RHI financial support scheme. London: UKERC.Google Scholar
  71. Unruh, G. (2000). Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy, 28(12), 817–830.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Walker, G., Hunter, S., Devine-Wright, P., Evans, B., & Fay, H. (2007). Harnessing community energies: explaining and evaluating community-based localism in renewable energy policy in the UK. Global Environmental Politics, 7(2), 64–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Watson, J., Sauter, R., Bahaj, B., James, P. A., Myers, L., & Wing, R. (2006). Unlocking the power house: policy and system change for domestic micro-generation in the UK. Brighton: SPRU.Google Scholar
  74. Watson, J., Sauter, R., Bahaj, B., James, P., Myers, L., & Wing, R. (2008). Domestic micro-generation: economic, regulatory and policy issues for the UK. Energy Policy, 36, 3095–3106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations