Will government plans to make new homes zero-carbon by 2016 help us reduce our carbon footprint? A new report says it’s what’s going on inside the homes that matters – and that means the people who live in them.
What’s most important when it comes to saving energy in the home – the design of the building, the appliances or how people behave?
Obviously, there’s no black and white answer to this question, but a recent paper published by the UK Energy Research Centre has had a good stab at providing one.
People, not buildings, use energy
According to Dr Kathryn Janda, the author of the report, smart buildings aren’t the solution – smart people are.
She explains that people don’t realise that energy bills in ‘zero-energy homes’ are not zero, and different residents will use high, average and low amounts of energy according to their habits. Essentially, the message is that buildings don’t use energy, people do.
‘The UK government has declared that new homes must be zero-carbon by 2016,’ explains Dr Janda. ‘Experience with “zero energy” homes shows us that designers cannot do this alone. They will need to work with users to deliver comprehensive energy reductions.’
Where do education and technology fit in?
But how can our habits be changed? Better education? More flashy technology? Dr Janda says both are necessary but won’t work in isolation:
“Technology is going to assist but it is not going to do everything. I think we have gone too far towards thinking that technology is going to solve all our problems for us.”
Ok, so what about education? Back in August our own Hazel Cottrell started a Conversation about just this, quoting research that suggested many of us are choosing the wrong ways to be green. The study looked at the small changes many of us make – like turning out lights – and concluded that they didn’t do a lot to help save the environment.
So surely we could benefit from knowing exactly what’s best? Other studies show that people reduce their energy use when given feedback, either by using real-time meters or by being given indirect information such as itemised bills, says UK Energy Research Centre.
And that’s exactly where measures like smart meters come in. A basic meter won’t do a lot to change our habits because it simply sends information to the energy provider. But team it up with an energy monitor and it starts to become useful, telling people how much energy they’re using – and on what.
I think I agree in principle with Dr Janda – her report seems to be concluding that nothing works in isolation. Anyone can buy an eco house, but it won’t automatically make you an eco warrior. Similarly, getting a smart meter won’t save you any energy unless you act upon what it’s telling you.
We’ve all got to do our bit – we might just need a bit of a steer in what that ‘bit’ should be.