Living lab approach can cut energy usage

It is possible to drive down home energy use without placing an emphasis on individuals or technologies as central to change, according to the findings of a study.

In early February, the ENERGISE consortium published results from the first large-scale European effort to reduce household energy use through a change initiative, with a “living lab” approach adopted in 306 households across eight countries. While efforts in reducing energy use are underway throughout Europe and the share of renewable energy sources growing, these energy transitions are yet to yield absolute reductions.

The study saw two types of living labs designed with the first (ELL1) seeing households recruited and engaged with separately, with little to no interaction between them. The second (ELL2) saw collective engagement, with the aim to see how different ways of engaging collectively and social learning could lead to change. They were given two challenges related to the practices of “doing laundry” and “keeping warm”, with specific targets of reducing indoor temperatures to a maximum of 18°C alongside halving the number of weekly laundry cycles relative to a baseline.

Reductions were recorded in indoor temperatures and laundry cycle in all eight countries over the course of the challenge period. At least a 1°C change was found to be possible in living rooms, as well as a 1.5°C change in bedrooms in all countries, along with at least 1 less laundry cycle per week. These changes, it was noted, which relate to varying energy savings dependent on the energy sources available in the respective countries, do not require costly technical interventions. Instead, they need time and resources for engaging and deliberating with households.

Based on this, the study has shown that as a practice-based change initiative, reductions in energy use are possible when routinised practices are disrupted through experimentation.

Listing some of the key takeaways, ENERGISE found a deliberation phase to be an important first step in a practice-centred design, engaging participants in understanding how practices play out and making the social norms that are tied up with a certain way of doing things more explicit. The emphasis on learning together was also found to be significant, with the change initiatives encouraging people to work collaboratively to set targets, challenge habits and routinised ways of doing things, while also sharing experiences. The fact all households knew they were part of a collective effort, consisting of more than 300 households, fostered positive emotions through a sense of virtual community.