Is efficient sufficient? UKERC at the ECEEE Summer Study

01 Aug 2019

UKERC co-sponsored the bi-annual ECEEE Summer Study with CREDS this year. ECEEE – The European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy – organises Summer Studies as part of their mission to provide comprehensive evidence-based knowledge and analysis of energy policy, and to facilitate cooperation and networking.

This year’s theme was ‘Is efficient sufficient?’ The aim was to move the frontiers of debate beyond energy efficiency, which sits well with the work of UKERC and CREDS (Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions) another UKRI-funded energy systems platform and a close partner.


Sufficiency: a topic with growing academic support

The frontiers were crossed from many angles, by leading researchers within transport and mobility, policy research and economics, electrical engineering, heat, industry, and a range of social sciences.

Building on Tina and Sarah’s work on the concept of sufficiency, participants were asked to consider the structural changes needed for individuals and families to live and work more sufficiently. They were also asked how these changes would add to the ‘good life’: sufficiency as a positive choice that citizens would be willing to support through actions and votes.


No shortage of actions individuals can take

Through Tina Fawcett and Sarah Darby (University of Oxford), UKERC and CREDS made a joint expedition through a well-attended Solutions Workshop that aimed to look beyond the individual actions that could contribute to sufficiency.

Perhaps inevitably, a lot of responses still related to individual actions such as:

  • Minimise flying, especially long-haul, where possible
  • Share rather than buy items you don’t use frequently
  • Make your next car an electric one and charge it ‘smartly’
  • Set thermostats no higher than 19C and stored hot water <= 55C
  • Improve the efficiency of your home, or ask your landlord to
  • Walk, cycle or take public transport, rather than driving
  • Consider switching to a low carbon heating system such as a heat pump
  • Eat a healthy diet, e.g. eat less beef, lamb and dairy


Achieving scale needs structural responses

However, participants also spent time with pens and post-it notes, adding thoughts about each action and its feasibility at scale. At the end of the session, Clare Downing reflected back some key points which had been made.

Taking one example – minimising flying, usually framed as an individual choice – workshop participants highlighted a number of structural responses that could make long distance air travel less attractive and alternatives more appealing.

Carbon taxes, air fuel taxes, personal air travel allowances, and a ban on building new airports were suggested to dis-incentivise flying. Improving rail travel was considered important within Europe and suggestions included easier trans-national booking systems, more sleeper trains, and better and more frequent trains for longer journeys.

More holiday time could also encourage people to travel by train, and local holiday attractions could be improved and therefore decrease the perceived ‘need to travel’. Better video conference systems were suggested as a way to avoid business travel altogether.


Creative responses, not sacrifice

Potential contributions to the good life included more time to enjoy slow travel and see more people and places along the way, self-fulfilment, less time spent in over-crowded ‘tourist traps’ as people explore a wider range of locations, and less ‘Skype-stress’ as video conferencing is developed into a workable solution.

Through this and other topics, the workshop developed thinking about the wider structural changes needed to enable sufficiency and also the positive contribution that these changes could make to our lives. It moved the conversation away from the ideas of individual ‘sacrifice’, to thinking more creatively about how to enable us to live and work differently and better. The results will feed into future research on sufficiency.


Conclusion: No, efficiency alone is not sufficient

The joint workshop was one example of many interesting events during the ECEEE Summer Study that all pointed to this answer to the overall question of the theme: no, efficiency alone is not sufficient.

What is needed is a broad-fronted approach, and it is through events such as the week-long Summer Study that you get a chance to make connections between questions, answers, methods and the people who use and develop them.

Connecting with other academic disciplines, breaking down ‘silos’, and connecting academic enquiry to civil society, citizens, industry, and policy is crucial in order to get us to sufficiency. Did I mention that Extinction Rebellion was in the room? What a good idea.


You can find a presentation introducing sufficiency here.