What role for microgeneration in a shift to a low carbon domestic energy sector in the UK?
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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.
KeywordsMicrogeneration Domestic energy Behaviour Transition Socio-technical regime Niches Strategic niche management
Carbon Emissions Reductions Target
Combined heat and power
Low Carbon Buildings Programme
Strategic niche management
Strategic Policy Niche Management
Virtual power plant
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