Energy Efficiency

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 369–385 | Cite as

Matching policy and people? Household responses to the promotion of renewable electricity

  • Tanja Winther
  • Torgeir Ericson
Original Article


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.


Electricity 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.


  1. Aasen, M., Westskog, H., Wilhite, H., & Lindberg, M. (2010). The EU electricity disclosure from the business perspective: a study from Norway. Energy Policy, 38, 7921–7928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Attari, S. Z., Schoen, M., Davidson, C. I., DeKay, M. L., de Bruin, W. B., Dawes, R., & Small, M. J. (2009). Preferences for change. Do individuals prefer voluntary actions, soft regulations, or hard regulations to decrease fossil fuel consumption? Ecological Economics, 68(6), 1701–1710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aune, M. (2007). Electricity comes home. Energy Policy, 35(11), 5457–5465.Google Scholar
  5. Boardman, B., & Palmer, J. (2007). Electricity disclosure: the troubled birth of a new policy. Energy Policy, 35, 4947–4958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. CICERO/Synovate (2010). Den Store Norske Klima- og Miljøundersøkelsen 2010. Oslo, Norway.Google Scholar
  8. Darby, S. (2006). Social learning and public policy: lessons from an energy-conscious village. Energy Policy, 34, 2929–2940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Delmas, M., Montes-Sancho, M., & Shimshack, J. (2006). Mandatory information and environmental performance in the electricity industry. Tokyo: Paper presented at the World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists. July.Google Scholar
  10. Desvousges, W. J., & Frey, J. H. (1989). Integrating focus groups and surveys: example from environmental risk surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 5, 349–363.Google Scholar
  11. Eikeland, P. O. (1998). Electricity market liberalisation and environmental performance: Norway and the UK. Energy Policy, 26(12), 917–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. EU (2011). European Commission (2011/0172): Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the council on energy efficiency and repealing directives 2004/8/EC and 2006/32/EC. Accessed in May 2012.
  13. Farinelli, U., Johansson, T. B., McCormick, K., Mundaca, L., Oikonomou, V., Örtenvik, M., Patel, M., & Santi, F. (2005). “White and Green”: comparison of market-based instruments to promote energy efficiency. Journal of Cleaner Production, 13, 1015–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gamble, A., Juliusson, E. A., & Garling, T. (2009). Consumer attitudes towards switching supplier in three deregulated markets. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 38, 814–819.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hansla, A. (2011). Value orientation and framing as determinants of stated willingness to pay for eco-labeled electricity. Energy Efficiency. doi: 10.1007/s12053-010-9096-0.
  16. Hansla, A., Gamble, A., Juliusson, A., & Gärling, T. (2008). Psychological determinants of attitude towards and willingness to pay for green electricity. Energy Policy, 36, 768–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hobart, M. (1993). Introduction: the growth of ignorance? In M. Hobart (Ed.), An anthropological critique of development. The growth of ignorance. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Hovland, K. M., & Sprenger, M. (2010). Norsk strøm er ikke ren: halvparten er kull- og atomkraft. Teknisk Ukeblad (popular magazine): Norway.Google Scholar
  19. Levin, I. P., & Gaeth, J. (1988). How consumers are affected by the framing of attribute information before and after consuming the product. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(3), 374–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Litvine, D., & Wüstenhagen, R. (2011). Helping “light green” consumers walk the talk: results of a behavioural intervention survey in the Swiss electricity market. Ecological Economics, 70, 462–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Maréchal, K. (2009). An evolutionary perspective on the economics of energy consumption: the crucial role of habits. Journal of Economic Issues. doi: 10.2753/JEI0021-3624430104.
  22. Markard, J., & Holt, E. (2003). Disclosure of electricity products—lessons from consumer research as guidance for energy policy. Energy Policy, 31(14), 1459–1474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. NVE (2011). Norwegian water resources and energy directorate: Energistatus 2010.
  24. NVEa. Norwegian water resources and energy directorate: Accessed in November 2011.
  25. NVEb/OED. FOR 1999-03-11 nr 301: Forskrift om måling, avregning og samordnet opptreden ved kraftomsetning og fakturering av nettjenester Accessed in April 2011.
  26. Ortner, S. (2006). Anthropology and social theory: culture, power, and the acting subject. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Point Carbon/EBL. (2007). Norsk bransjenorm for opprinnelsesgaranterte kraftleveranser fra fornybar energi. Markedsførings- og verifikasjonsnorm. Oslo: Energibedriftenes Landsforbund.Google Scholar
  28. Raadal, H. L., Nyland, C. A., & Hanssen, O. J. (2009). Calculation of residual electricity mixes when accounting for the EECS (European Electricity Certificate System)—the need for a harmonised system. Energies, 2, 477–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Roe, B., Teisl, M. F., Levy, A., & Russell, M. (2001). US consumers’ willingness to pay for green electricity. Energy Policy, 29(11), 917–925.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Røpke, I. (2009). Theories of practice—new inspiration for ecological economic studies on consumption. Ecological Economics, 68, 2490–2497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sælen, H., Westskog, H., & Strumse, E. (2012). Values, attitudes, and pro-environmental behaviours—is there a link? Results from a Norwegian survey. Economics Bulletin, 32(1), 486–493.Google Scholar
  32. Sewell, W. H. (1992). A theory of structure: duality, agency, and transformation. The American Journal of Sociology, 98(1), 1–29.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shove, E. (2004). Changing human behaviour and lifestyle: a challenge for sustainable consumption? In L. A. Reisch & I. Røpke (Eds.), The ecological economics of consumption (pp. 111–131). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Sogge, C. V., & Øen, J. (2007). A climate for change? A focus group study on knowledge and values linking electricity consumption to climate change. Master thesis. Norway: Norwegian University of Life Sciences.Google Scholar
  35. Stern, P. C. (1999). Information, incentives, and proenvironmental consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Policy, 22, 461–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stern, P. C. (2000). Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 407–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Timpe, C., & Seebach, D. (2009). Best practice for the tracking of electricity. Recommendations from the E-TRACK II project. Öko-Institut e.V.Google Scholar
  38. Wade-Benzoni, K. A., Li, M., Thompson, L. L., & Bazerman, M. H. (2007). The malleability of environmentalism. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 7(1), 163–189.Google Scholar
  39. Warde, A. (2005). Consumption and theories of practice. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2), 131–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Westskog, H., Winther, T., & Strumse, E. (2011). Addressing fields of rationality—a policy for reducing household energy consumption? In A. Markandya, I. Galarraga, & M. Gonzalez (Eds.), The handbook of sustainable energy (pp. 452–469). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  41. Wilhite, H. (2007). “An assessment of experiences in the U.S.A. with power and emissions disclosure information for energy consumers”, Report 2007, no 2. CICERO and SUM, Oslo. Norway.Google Scholar
  42. Wilhite, H. (2008). New thinking on the agentive relationship between end-use technologies and energy-using practices. Energy Efficiency. doi: 10.1007/s12053-008-9006-x.
  43. Wilhite, H., & Ling, R. (1995). Measured energy savings from a more informative energy bill. Energy and Buildings, 22, 145–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Winther, T. (2008). The impact of electricity. Development, desires and dilemmas. Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM)University of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO)OsloNorway

Personalised recommendations