Energy Performance Gaps: Promises, People, Practices
Kirsten Gram-Hanssen and Susse Georg introduce their forthcoming Special Issue
The building sector has been identified as the sector with the largest potential for energy savings. Yet in spite of great technical progress, a large part of the savings have yet to be realized. If the performance gaps are to be lessened, then the potential of energy savings from the residents and building users and their practices must be considered. For example, building occupants develop higher expectations of comfort and they often lack an understanding of the control of building technologies. But it is also true that many technologies are not adapted to user needs: they lack user friendliness and can lead to unnecessary and unwanted consumption. However, the practices of the building professionals, their considerations regarding the users and how these considerations are treated in the design, construction and installation processes, or the operation of the buildings, also must be included.
To achieve energy savings, future energy efficient technologies have to meet users’ needs to a greater extent and support their practices in a sustainable direction, and this counts for residents as well as building professionals and their practices. Pursuing this requires deeper understanding of differentiated user practices and their relations to energy consumption. Our recent Building Research & Information special issue on “Energy Performance gaps: Promises, People, Practices” with a curated collection of papers, is dedicated to understanding this and it proposes new directions for building research and practice to actually be able to realise the needed savings.
Policy has, hitherto, been effective in promoting the development of more energy efficient buildings. But policy has not curbed the continuously growing energy consumption. Technological efficiency on its own is unlikely to provide the dramatic and rapid reductions needed to meet climate targets. It is therefore also debatable whether the usual economic arguments underlying McKinsey’s ”global GHG abatement cost curve”, establishing the building sector as the most cost effective field for reducing consumption, are still valid. In principle, it is easy to reduce energy consumption in buildings, but the invol
vement of people changes this simple picture, as documented in the articles in the Special Issue.
The conclusions from the special issue include at least three points of relevance for public policy:
- First, policy must move beyond just focusing on efficiency of buildings and theoretical energy reductions. Policy needs to be more firmly based on understandings of how new technologies will also introduce new practices and new norms of what home, comfort and a good everyday life is.
- Second, it is necessary to consider how to develop new (smart) technologies which people can understand, domesticate and use, while at the same time consideration must be given to whether these new technologies induce more consumption rather than help consumers to save energy.
- Third, if policy is to deliver the needed radical CO2 and energy reductions in buildings, then a shift of focus is needed away from regulation as a one-time gateway which only assesses the design and material aspects of a building. Instead, policies and regulations should consider alternatives which include an ongoing assessment of both the material and social aspects of building operation, along with guidance and support to occupants.
There is much to be gained from a policy and regulatory regime that takes a ‘both-and’ approach to technical and social issues. The research in our special issue collectively makes a strong case for focusing more actions on user practices in energy.
About the authors
Kirsten Gram-Hanssen is a Professor at the Danish Building Research Institute (SBI), Aalborg University Copenhagen. ORCiD: 0000-0002-8543-2501
Susse Georg is a Professor in the Department of Planning, Aalborg University Copenhagen. ORCiD: 0000-0001-9981-2444