Making the Case for Low Carbon: Ahead of COP21, a Panel of Experts Discussed How to Engage Domestic and Business Customers on Climate Change

New Statesman (1996), November 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Making the Case for Low Carbon: Ahead of COP21, a Panel of Experts Discussed How to Engage Domestic and Business Customers on Climate Change


"We really think there is a space for business to mobilise customers," said Dr Jeff Hardy, head of future consumers and sustainability at Ofgem. "It is a space created by the climate imperative and the associated sticks and carrots. The sticks are the carbon prices and targets and the carrots are the business opportunities."

Hardy was speaking at a climate and energy expert panel, convened by EDF Energy earlier this month, ahead of C0P21--the UN climate conference in Paris.

For Ofgem, the electricity and gas markets regulator for Great Britain, prompting behaviour change through business levers ---many technology-based--raises some big regulatory issues. "A question we're asking," said Hardy, "is whether retail regulation should be reliant on principles rather than prescription. More principles in retailer regulation--doing the right thing--could create many more innovative digital propositions."

Attitudes to climate change

More on those innovations in a moment but first a thought about the customers. Do they really care about climate change to alter their behaviour? "On a macro level, not to a huge extent," said Laurence Stellings, associate director at Populus, the polling organisation. Populus carries out an "open-ended tracker" asking a sample of the UK population to nominate the big issues facing the country. Climate change is fifteenth on that list, behind the economy, education and the UK's relationship with the European Union, among other things. Not very high, in other words.

"But on a macro level ... climate change does play a part," continued Stellings. "It's part of the mix of many other issues. They care about cost, they care about how easy it is to switch, they care about whether the call centre is outsourced to somewhere else in the world."

"Sometimes they are able to make a decision that ticks a lot of those boxes, including climate change. Sometimes they are happy to make a decision that doesn't click the climate box."

Business incentives

Given the complex mix of motivations and attitudes, how does an energy company engage with its customers on climate change? Beatrice Bigois, managing director customers, EDF Energy, said the nature of the engagement tends to differ between domestic and business customers. For example, EDF Energy carries out audits for its business customers to help them understand their consumption habits better. "By raising awareness it helps them change their behaviour," said Bigois.

But are customers sufficiently interested? Don't most treat energy supply for what it is--a utility? "That's true for some customers but for others, when electricity is a big part of their costs, they get interested." She cited the example of United Biscuits that set itself a 40 per cent emissions reduction target between 2012 and 2020. It reached a 30 per cent saving alone and then came to EDF Energy--which put a structured plan in place--to help with the final 10 per cent.

Role of technology

As for domestic customers, Beatrice Bigois said the implementation of smart meters will prove "an enabler to develop services around the meter ... Through digital technologies, we will be able to help customers better manage their electricity consumption." Patrick Caiger-Smith agreed that technology has a key role to play. As chief executive of Green Energy Options, a Cambridge-based business which helps the energy retail industry with technology and insight around behaviour change, Caiger-Smith argues that there are broadly three ways to lower household carbon emissions: reduce usage through carbon neutral activities such as turning the lights off in empty rooms or by swapping out energy inefficient appliances for efficient alternatives; green the property by buying or self-generating green power; and shift power consumption around during the day. …

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