‘Energy transition’ is often discussed in boardrooms. Unsurprisingly, The Netherlands has some solid goals to achieve in this field. The European energy targets for 2020 are not to be taken lightly: CO2 emissions and energy use need to be reduced 20%, which is significantly higher than 1990’s percentage. Furthermore, another 20% of sustainable energy needs to be generated. This clearly requires drastic changes, which means the energy transition will remain top priority on political and corporate agendas for years to come.
But how do we perceive energy at home? To what extent do we really care about the energy source of the future? And how does that impact the energy market?
Energy transition is too abstract
We care most about things that are visible to the eye. The closer and more tangible, the better. Solar panels on our roof. Our neighbor’s electric car in the driveway. Refueling stations in the street; windmills on the horizon. Ask anyone about trends in energy market and they are bound to only mention the examples visible to the eye.
Yet, when we dig a little deeper, it soon goes silent. Energy transition is a complex and abstract topic. Consultants and executives have written numerous detailed reports on ‘renewables’, ‘cradle-to-cradle’, ‘circular economy’ and ‘CO2 reduction’, but in all fairness, they only do little more than preaching to the choir.
"Not a single person knows how much energy they use on a yearly basis, or how much we actually pay for it."
The question remains: what does all of this mean for the people at home? Well, that is exactly where opportunities for the energy market of the future are to be seized: in society’s daily commitment. After all, people need to understand that they are the agents of change.
As it turns out, not a single person knows how much energy they use on a yearly basis, or how much we actually pay for it. Not to mention the masses of CO2 that are involved. These are shortcomings for us humans because we underestimate our power to influence change.
Our power as consumers
How does our experience as consumer(s) impact the energy transition? Let us use a practical example: the faucets in our home. Virtually no one would leave them running – to the point where we can’t even fall asleep when we hear water dripping from the bathroom faucet. We need to make sure it’s closed - period.
"That one annoying drip apparently is enough to make people get out of bed."
Why is that? It’s not the sound of the dripping that keeps us awake, seeing as though we can sleep perfectly fine when it’s raining outside. Our research shows that – after some thorough questioning – it’s the feeling of spillage keeping us awake. That one annoying drip apparently is enough to make people get out of bed, which is in stark contrast to the way we deal with our energy use.
A leaking faucet accounts for 1.575 litre per year – 1 drip per second; 20,000 drips per litre – which results in €2,37 per year of dripping. Not particularly a massive loss.
The cost of 1 Watt continuous usage for a year amounts to approximately €2. But, of course, it doesn’t end there. Most people don’t even think twice about leaving their Wi-Fi router throughout the year. Assuming it’s a 12 Watt usage, that’s the equivalent of 10 dripping faucets. Moreover, the CO2 emission of the router (± 440 g CO2 / kWh) is about 82 times bigger than the faucet’s (± 0,36 g CO2 / litre water).
"It’s the little things that often matter most. Those 150 Watts are responsible for €300 annually that we lose while we sleep."
This is a significant difference, but it even gets bigger. The minimum electricity usage (or baseload) of an average Dutch family is approximately 150 Watts. This use is often invisible – it’s the TV on standby, the computer in hibernation mode, the alarm clock on your bedside table, the central heating unit. But it’s the little things that often matter most. Those 150 Watts are responsible for €300 annually that we lose while we sleep. We would have to let 127 faucets drip to reach that amount. Furthermore, we would need an impressive 1,020 faucets to match the CO2 emission.
Bear in mind, this is only one household – of which there are approximately 7,7 million in the Netherlands. This means that this careless usage costs society nearly €2,3 billion every year, and negatively impacts the environment because of the extra 4,4 megatons of CO2. Therefore, mobilizing the masses is absolutely imperative.
Knowledge as a lever
‘Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.’ We have come a long way since Archimedes’ time, but his words still ring true. Knowledge is the lever for energy transition. It needs little convincing that the best place to implement this is at home.
The Netherlands has a growing group of early adopters that are fully aware of the energy transition. They are the consumers that generate their own energy by making use of solar panels, joining a local energy co-operation or using an electric car to get from A to B. These trailblazers have been mobilized, showing us how the need for information can inspire change. By using smart meters and apps to keep track of their energy use, they know exactly how much energy is spent at home.
"Regardless of how ‘connected’ the modern consumer is, the ‘personal’ aspect of energy use is far less obvious now than it used to be."
This information provides them the tools to change their behavior. They set the trends in the energy market. Those smart meters, apps and other modern gadgets offer accurate and tangible feedback needed to make informed choices – it makes the consequences visible. Is it cheaper to buy electricity and gas from two different providers? If so, then that’s what they will do. The fact that they can see and ‘feel’ it means they can hear the faucet dripping, so to speak.
The message is crystal clear: we most definitely want to move forward, but we need help. We need information that makes the impact of energy visible and tangible. At this point, we lack sufficient insight that will help awaken the sleeping masses to the need for an energy transition. We still have a long way to go. Regardless of how connected the modern consumer is, the personal aspect of energy use is far less obvious now than it used to be in the early days.
The future of the energy transition
The transition to sustainable energy resources is high on the government’s agenda. However, this antiquated ‘top-down’ approach is no longer effective; the real potential for change lies in our homes. Hence, the core of the energy market continues to shift to a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
Thus, the biggest changes occur on a personal level, in people’s individual experience of energy. Perhaps the smartest among us know exactly how much energy we have used over the past few years, while in the future we will know exactly how much we use today – and how many dripping faucets that amounts to. Switching to a new energy provider will thus become much easier.
The first omens have been witnessed: 15,1% of Dutch energy consumers switched providers in 2015 (source: www.energie-nederland.nl). Over the years, we have become more willing to pay for fridges that use less energy and LED screens that switch off by themselves. The ‘dripping faucets’ slowly go out of fashion and get left in the dust. Some of us have even reached the point where we switch-off plugs in the fuse-box before leaving the house, in order to reduce the amount of ‘dripping tabs’. It’s an action that offers perspective for today and tomorrow, only if we anticipate it correctly.
Hence, what will ultimately lead to the energy transition is the answer to the question: what about my energy?
Whoever understands the essence, has the real answer.
So: what about your energy? What do you do to keep track of your energy? And what ideas do you have on mobilizing the sleeping masses to the need for an energy transition? Get involved and leave a comment. If you would like to know how we can guide you in the energy transition, please get in touch. Would you like to discover your career opportunities? Contact our recruiter.