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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy. Utilization of Behavior Change in regards to the Energy Transition

image credit: Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

It is undeniable that energy is one of the necessary and irreplaceable resources of an end-user. The very existence of human civilization depends entirely on energy. However, the ever increasing energy consumption bears associated costs and subsequently there is no doubt that the way we produce, transmit, consume energy must change.

The need for the change stems from many reasons: whether it is Climate Change (as a primary reason), infrastructure obsolescence, depletion of natural resources, etc. We all are completely aware of the need for such change and all of us (who operates within associated areas) are doing our best to promote such changes and adjustments.

To illustrate the urgency, following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres remarks on the 2019   Climate Summit, in Katowice, in regards to the upcoming the Climate Summit which will take place next September in New York:

First:  ambition. -  Countries need notably to fulfill their pledges. They also need to raise their ambition. We need clear moves not only by national Governments but also by other actors such as sub-national governments, businesses, and investors……

Second: the transformation of the real economy. -  The Summit will focus on the key areas where both the problems and the solutions, lie: Energy transition; industry transition; nature-based solutions; cities and local action; resilience. . ……

Third:  citizen and youth mobilization. -  Our younger generations will have to help drive, and complete, the work we start today. We need to harness their energy, invention and political power to raise climate ambition. We will strive to achieve an unprecedented mobilization of youth throughout the coming year.

Just to emphasize the need for a change, here are some facts which indicate why we should get involved:

  1. Worlds’ current population has reached 7.65 billion people (November 2018)
  2. We leave at 1.65+ billion premises (homes, apartments…).
  3. The residential sector (our homes) consumes up to 30% of Worlds’ Energy.
  4. The global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have reached 36.79 GtCO2, and we are directly responsible for 1/3 of this enormous emission simply by consuming energy at our homes.
  5. We cause an enormous Carbon Imprint – The average American’s energy-related carbon footprint is 16.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide (tCO2e), while 6.68 tCO2e  are the direct result of Electricity Consumption.

Obviously, all these figures are not being ignored and Trillions of USD have been and will be invested in research, global initiatives, renewable energy, etc.

And do we see any changes?  Well, not yet or more precisely – no positive and visible results have been achieved so far.

So, why do we ourselves need to change and what kind of change is needed?

Accordingly to numerous researches, Energy Savings by Changing People’s Behavior could reach up to 48%, and thus prior to utilization of renewable energy resources!

Yet, do we adopt the necessary change or at least - are we ready to change? – Definitely… No.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy

When it comes to dealing with change, research indicates that there are three primary emotions we experience: cynicism, fear, and acceptance. The first two are strongly negative, and the latter is vaguely positive. No strong positive feelings made it to the top.

As an opposite of the expectation from everyone to kick in, do their part, and work together – kind of embracing Kumbaya Syndrom, the change we seek doesn't work this way. The recent "climate strikes" in schools organized by Greta Thurnberg which include mainly black-and-white messages and catchy slogans provoke mixed emotions, raise awareness, add to the sense of emergency and most definitely constitute somehow positive actions. Still, since they are directed mainly to the decision-makers, they may miss the point. Turning to this direction, it is possible to assess the occurrence of two possible consequences:

  1. Decision-makers may make populist decisions and divert public resources to seemingly popular and easy solutions, such as continuing excessive investments in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy - without adapting energy consumption from renewable energy - which will inevitably lead to other problems such as increased energy costs, inefficiency etc.
  2. Alternatively, and what is more likely, those protests will ultimately reach deaf ears and besides timely buzz in the media, nothing will happen. Conservative stagnation will prevail.

In the current reality, when the global energy market is based on the concentrated economy that has always been driven by corporations ,  stakeholders and most importantly adopted by our own human practices (ways of doing, ‘routinized behavior’, habits), which  are themselves arrangements of various inter-connected ‘elements’, such as physical and mental activities, norms,meanings, technology use, knowledge, which form peoples actions or ‘behavior’ as part of their everyday lives) , the real change can only take place under the following circumstances:

  1. There will be a change in the way each end-consumer will make a change in the way he himself consumes energy. I.e., the internal change
  2. There will be a change in the way each energy supplier offers its services to its customers. I.e., a change in the dynamics between the parties
  3. The assimilation of renewable energy will be carried out in a manner consistent with its characteristics, i.e. not as a direct substitute for classical energy sources, but rather as one with energy storage solutions, as a localized solution, in a distributed system, etc.

As mentioned above, the change at consumers' behavior could constitute an unprecedented impact over the overall energy economy – up to 48% energy and carbon imprint savings.

However, although this is an unprecedented benefit for the end user himself, for the community and as a means of coping with climate threats, very little is done in this context. Very few are adopting such changes, and this is not surprising – those three primary emotions we experience: cynicism, fear, and acceptance charge their toll.

To succeed, we need to understand the three most important elements in changing behavior:

  1. Readiness to change: Do we possess the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
  2. Barriers to change: What are those elements that prevent us from changing?
  3. Expect relapse: What might trigger a return to a former behavior?

One of the best-known approaches to change is known as the Transtheoretical Model, which was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente who were studying ways to help people quit smoking. Sometimes called The Stages of Change Model has been found to be an effective aid in understanding how people go through a change in behavior.

The Transtheoretical model of behavior change, which is also known by the abbreviation "TTM" and sometimes by the term "stages of change", is an integrative theory of therapy that assesses an individual's readiness to act on a new healthier behavior, and provides strategies, or processes of change to guide the individual. The model is composed of constructs such as: stages of change, processes of change, levels of change, self-efficacy, and decisional balance.

Here are some clarifications of the related terms:

Self-efficacy is an individual's belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Albert Bandura defines it as a personal judgment of "how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations".

A decisional balance sheet or decision balance sheet is a tabular method for representing the pros and cons of different choices and for helping someone decide what to do in a certain circumstance.

Prior to diving into adjusting The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change to the Energy Transition and/or to the way we consume energy, let's take a look at the overview of the suggested model stages with emphasis over the characteristics of each stage:

  1. During the Pre-Contemplation stage of change, individuals have no intention to change, because they are not aware that they have a problem.
  2. During the Contemplation stage of change, individuals are aware of their problem and are thinking about ceasing the behaviors that have caused the problem, but they are not yet fully dedicated to taking action. Individuals can dwell in the contemplation stage of change for long periods of time.
  3. The Preparation stage of change marks the beginning of “small” changes that indicate the individual’s desire to change behaviors that have led to identified problems.
  4. The Action stage of change is defined by behavior, experiential, and environmental modification. The individual is ready to change those aspect(s) of life that are contributing to the undesired situation or problem.
  5. In the Maintenance stage of change, individuals carry out adaptive behaviors that can help strengthen their resolve. An individual can stay in this stage an entire lifetime if dedicated to maintaining change.
  6. During Relapse, individuals revert to earlier stages. It is imperative to let individuals know that “relapse” is part of recovery and that it is a simple bump in the road that can be overcome with hard work and adjustments.

Although the above review illustrates the outline of the change theoretically and very partially  - the solution requires adaptation of few other theories and means to provide the full solution we seek, it is equally obvious that with regard to the subject of this article the individual will find himself helpless in applying the change.

Lack of awareness of the possibility of making a change, and mainly lack of knowledge and practical tools to assimilate the change, and often even a surplus of scattered information will bring the individual to the same situation in which he is actually present – stagnation.

And this is exactly why current energy suppliers need to change their perception of how to provide their services to their customers, and what their offerings include.

By educating customers and letting them feel they matter, and subsequently allowing them to improve their engagement and cooperation level as initial triggers for optimizing energy consumption behavior, utilities and/or power companies will establish a foundation for implementation of new energy-related business models, consisting of proper implementation of renewable energy to be carried out in a manner consistent with its characteristics.

Implementing the process of change among end customers and continuous support will require the extensive implementation of adjusted and personalized strategies adapted to each stage of change. Naturally, even though a universal outline that contains general strategies for dealing with unwillingness or resistance to change has already been developed and is available, successful implementation of the change among different populations requires individual attention to a wide range of variables that characterize the daily reality of these populations, and definitely the relevant external circumstances.

The bottom line - when the factors demanding the change are usually external, without change from within, the chance of change to succeed is very low. And the change from within must be made in accordance with the nature of the individual, his thinking and decision-making.

The excessive reliance on the technological aspect of the ENERGY TRANSITION without the necessary combination of utilizing applied behavior science explains the failures of recent years that will worsen if there is no change in perception

Decision makers can, and may, throw away absurd amounts of public money in an attempt to simply replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent years' experience suggests that the above tactic is doomed to fail.

Sometimes, all that is needed is first to look at things from a different perspective and to supply end-users with know-how, tools, and support that are necessary for a change.

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. ”

― Archimedes

And in this case, " a lever" most obviously means a combination of innovation combined with proper agents for behavioral change.

To be continued….


Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 10, 2019

Really inspiring, Tal. Keep up the good work!

Our younger generations will have to help drive, and complete, the work we start today. We need to harness their energy, invention and political power to raise climate ambition.

This is one of the aspects that simultaneously excites and scares me. Excites because that enthusiasm and recognition of the need for action yesterday is real and palpable. Scared because I too often see institutions (governments, politicians, CEOs) doing the exact opposite and creating an anxiety that nothing can be done and action is not rewarded with results. I just hope the youth can and will keep up the enthusiasm and drive

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 11, 2019

"Decision makers can, and may, throw away absurd amounts of public money in an attempt to simply replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent years' experience suggests that the above tactic is doomed to fail.

Sometimes, all that is needed is first to look at things from a different perspective and to supply end-users with know-how, tools, and support that are necessary for a change.

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. ” - Archimedes

Truer words were never spoken, Tal, and I don't believe the solution is nearly that complicated, or dependent on fickle human nature.

The solution is not to jump on the latest bandwagon, but to trust the best experts - ones who understand the geophysics of climate change, who understand what needs to happen and how to best make it happen. People without money in the game, but with the unparalleled experience and perspective we'll need with so much at stake.

Those people are saying pretty much the same thing.

Tal Paperany's picture
Tal Paperany on Jul 11, 2019

Hi Bob, 

Thanks for your reply.

Unfortunately, it is too common for too many to experience the lack of support and necessary financing for people who see the whole picture, make their best to offer the solution everyone needs and base it on long-lasting research but even though they shout loud – "The King is naked!" – The crowd remains deaf to absolute truth.

I am totally convinced that such problems as we all face – The Climate Change, Energy Transition, etc. are being "sorted out" by not necessarily right people.

Indeed, decision-makers rely on specialists with vast experience and recognition, and I am sure they firmly base their points of view upon "solid" stats, etc.

Yet, the problem we deal with is absolutely different since it is not solvable within a framework of specific disciplines, such as physics, energy, geophysics of climate change, etc.

Furthermore, disregarding behavioral science principles with respect to energy consumption and especially in regards to attempts to change it all. – while 7.5 billion people have set their behavior upon very clear (for them) and existing principles (consisting of materials, meanings, and procedures)  - will lead to the total failure, especially while the initial results are already apparent.

Social Practice Theory explains why we consume energy in a current particular way:
Put simply, roads, railways, freezers, heating systems, etc. are not innocent features of the background. Rather, they have an active part to play in defining, reproducing and transforming what people take to be normal ways of life. The key insight here is that the material world and related systems of production and provision are important in organizing, structuring and sometimes preventing certain practices’.

In order to re-organize it all = to succeed in the Energy Transition-  it is absolutely necessary to "Break out a cycle of routine" and to offer users (of all kinds - consumers, utilities, etc.) different perspective in a form that would be acceptable and digestible to them.

Clearly, switching fossil fuel to renewables is not the solution, not even partial.

Furthermore, utilizing Behavioral Science principles and theories (as triggers for changing perception), is absolutely vital.

I'll add, it must be an interdisciplinary approach that contains it all - technology, utilization of behavioral biases, economic support etc. All bunch of solutions that interact in order to form a solution to one big problem. 

Most definitely it won't be one universal solution (due to too many variables - geophysical, cultural, etc.) - but the point is that due to the nature of given topic = energy (in all its aspects, the core should be universal, and all specific variables will remain as adjustable variables

I wish there was some kind of "Think Tank" where we could join forces and utilize all our unorthodox interdisciplinary knowledge to create a foundation for a new energy economy, to keep polishing "the core" we formalized.... :)

Unfortunately, I am personally not familiar with a such….

Tal Paperany's picture

Thank Tal for the Post!

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