Matching policy and people? Household responses to the promotion of renewable electricity
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In this paper, we study the responses among households to the promotion of renewable electricity. We analyse an experiment conducted by a Norwegian power company that offered Guarantees of Origin of supply to 5,000 of their customers. In the experiment, five different groups of 1,000 customers each received information about a renewable electricity certificate and how to purchase it. The information and the reasons given for why the customers should accept the offer was framed differently to each of the groups. The experiment produced minimal responses, and we use material from focus group discussions and in-depth interviews for interpreting and explaining the results. The analysis shows that customers tend to disregard information coming from their supplier, while there is also a low degree of commensurability between the message presented in the information and the understandings and perceptions held by the customers. For example, whereas the information contained the argument that customers must purchase certificates to obtain renewable electricity, Norwegians, because of their awareness of the country’s hydro-based production system, perceive electricity to be renewable as it is. Additionally, focus group participants found the presented terms and figures to be incomprehensible to the extent that the information can be said to have produced ignorance in them. In turn, this negatively affected people’s trust in the message and also its sender, as relevance and reliability are disclosure’s main challenges in Norway. We use the case of electricity labelling in Norway to demonstrate some of the general challenges associated with using information as a tool for changing people’s consumption patterns in deregulated energy markets.
KeywordsElectricity labelling Household responses Information campaigns Pro-environmental behaviour Sustainable consumption Deregulated markets Consumers’ knowledge Supplier–customer relationship Attitudes Practice
We wish to thank the editor and three anonymous reviewers for providing their highly valuable comments and suggestions. The paper is a result of the interdisciplinary research project, “Do information programs influence household electricity consumption?” (2009–2011), which was financed by the Research Council of Norway (project no. 190769/S60). We wish to thank representatives from the Norwegian electricity sector for their contributions to this work: Kristin Kolseth, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE); Ole Haugen, Energy Norway; Petter Gunnulfsen, Hafslund ASA; Gisle Haakonsen, Norwegian Ministry of the Environment (MD); John Ravlo, ECOHZ AS and, not least, Anne Wikan and May-Brith Østerbøl, Barents Energi AS, who also implemented the experiment and provided the customer data. We also thank participants in the focus groups, Synovate for facilitating these discussions and the people who let us interview them in their homes. We are highly indebted to our project leader Hege Westskog at CICERO, as well as to our other colleagues in the research team, Einar Strumse and Håkon Salen. Finally, Harold Wilhite, Monica Guillen-Royo and Karina Standal at SUM provided valuable comments to earlier drafts of this paper. Maury Saslaff and Connie J. Stultz proofed the English language.
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