IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

6.7.6 Imperfect information

Information about energy-efficiency options is often incomplete, unavailable, expensive and difficult to obtain or trust. In addition, few small enterprises in the building industry have access to sufficient training in new technologies, new standards, new regulations and best practices. This insufficient knowledge is compounded by uncertainties associated with energy price fluctuations (Hassett and Metcalf, 1993). It is particularly difficult to learn about the performance and costs of energy-efficient technologies and practices, because their benefits are often not directly observable. For example, households typically receive an energy bill that provides no breakdown of individual end-uses and no information on GHG emissions, while infrequent meter readings (e.g., once a year, as is typical in many EU countries) provide insufficient feedback to consumers on their energy use and on the potential impact of their efficiency investments. Trading off energy savings against higher purchase prices for many energy-efficient products involves comparing the time-discounted value of the energy savings with the present cost of the equipment – a calculation that can be difficult for purchasers to understand and compute.

6.7.7 Culture, behaviour, lifestyle and the rebound effect

Another broad category of barriers stems from the cultural and behavioural characteristics of individuals. The potential impact of lifestyle and tradition on energy use is most easily seen by cross-country comparisons. For example, dishwasher usage was 21% of residential energy use in UK residences in 1998 but 51% in Sweden (European Commission, 2001). Cold water is traditionally used for clothes washing in China (Biermayer and Lin, 2004) whereas hot water washing is common in Europe. Similarly, there are substantial differences among countries in how lighting is used at night, room temperatures considered comfortable, preferred temperatures of food or drink, the operating hours of commercial buildings, the size and composition of households, etc. (IEA, 1997; Chappells and Shove, 2004). Variation across countries in quantity of energy used per capita, which is large both at economy and household levels (IEA, 1997), can be explained only partly by weather and wealth; this is also appropriately attributed to different lifestyles. Even in identical houses with the same number of residents, energy consumption has been shown to differ by a factor of two or more (Socolow, 1978). Studies aimed at understanding these issues suggest that while lifestyle, traditions and culture can act as barriers, retaining and supporting lower-consuming lifestyles may also be effective in constraining GHG emissions (e.g., EEA, 2001).

The ‘rebound effect’ has often been cited as a barrier to the implementation of energy-efficiency policies. This takes place when increased energy efficiency is accompanied by increased demand for energy services (Moezzi and Diamond, 2005). The literature is divided about the magnitude of this effect (Herring, 2006).