Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Innovations to Reduce Residential Energy Use and Carbon Emissions: An Integrated Approach

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Innovations to Reduce Residential Energy Use and Carbon Emissions: An Integrated Approach

Article excerpt

Introduction

   In the near term, the greatest opportunities for cleaner
   energy lie in energy efficiency on the demand
   side and switching to less polluting fuels and energy
   conversions on the supply side. Although this conclusion
   is apparent from the CEF [Clean Energy
   Future] analysis of the United States, it is equally
   true for other countries throughout the world. (IWG
   2000, 8.1)

Research in energy sustainability is gaining a renewed priority because of the international importance of climate-change issues and the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by many countries. Increased energy efficiency and substitution of less carbon-intensive fuels are proposed as the key means to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and associated climatic changes. In the 1970s and 1980s, geographers were actively engaged in the debate and research surrounding energy issues (see Robinson 1984; Jackson 1988; Kuhn 1988). A decade ago, The Canadian Geographer published papers from Canadian geographers working on energy and sustainability. Pierce (1992) agreed with Repetto (1985) that energy was one of the rive essential transitions needed to shift society toward a path of sustainable development. Kuhn (1992) identified the differences in energy policy preferences held by people with 'ecocentric' versus 'technocentric' worldviews. Robinson (1988) advocated using back-casting techniques to identify and work toward desired energy pathways. Chapman's 1989 text, Geography and Energy, reviewed each of the major commercial energy systems and summarized Canadian energy policy and changes in the fuel mix over the last century. Despite the insights and knowledge gained from these studies, however, society has not achieved its goal of shifting to sustainable energy systems. Innovative approaches that can link knowledge to practice are required.

Energy studies share the general pattern of research in resource and environmental management, in which most studies have a narrow focus, yet leading researchers call for integrative approaches. The need for integrative approaches in energy studies is highlighted by recent American research in which rive national research laboratories prepared the Scenarios for U.S. Carbon Reduction report (IWG 1997) without an integrating analysis that recognized intersectoral effects (IWG 2000). The need for integration was recognized, and the five laboratories used an integrated analytical framework for their subsequent report Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future (IWG 2000; Brown et al. 2001). Many studies that had identified potential cost-effective investments in energy efficiency in the building, transportation, industrial and electricity sectors were recognized, but it was noted that in most cases, action or implementation strategies were lacking. The resulting 'efficiency gap' is considered to be a product of many market failures and barriers to action (Jaffe and Stavins 1994; Brown 2001). In the CEF study, more than 50 public policies and programs were examined as the means to comprehensively bridge the gap (IWG 2000).

This paper concurs with the need for integration in energy studies. Rather than examining a single question, such as 'Can the technical efficiency of the residential sector be improved?', it links the technical-efficiency question with the social attitudes and behaviour of residents by assessing the 'sociotechnical' potential to improve residential energy efficiency. It also links the knowledge that the potential for improvement exists to the practical issue of policy implementation, asking the question, 'How can improved energy efficiency be achieved at the local level?' The paper's objective, thus, is to illustrate the integration of different dimensions of energy issues within a single community study. The resulting approach offers a framework for other researchers seeking to integrate multiple dimensions within a single study of energy sustainability. …

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