Evaluate government policies which encourage businesses and households to be more energy efficient.
In recent years energy efficiency has been propelled to the level of considerable political concern. For a variety of reasons it has become prudent for government to instil an energy saving ethos both in industry and the general public. Such focus has come about due to the pressing issue of climate change and the active wish to meet various governments’ ambitious carbon emission targets. Moreover, the continuing concerns of supply levels and sustainability have meant that there is now a willingness to reduce national dependency on foreign sources of energy and thus “improving the efficiency of energy use is a leading option to gain better energy security” (Taylor, 2008; p. 27).
The purpose of this piece is to assess and evaluate government policies which aim to encourage both businesses and households to be more energy efficient. Above all, it will be shown that government forces have utilised a variety of tools to bring about reduced energy consumption. These include legislating against excessive energy use and incentivising individuals and industry to be more energy efficient through the use of grants and other financial assistance tools. Such measures represent a concerted attempt on the part of government to address this most pressing of concerns. However, although action has been proactive in this area much is still left undone. Above all, what is required is for government to take the lead in changing attitudes and lifestyles with regards to energy and work in a collaborative basis with a variety of different actors. Only when this is achieved will sustainable development and effective energy use be achieved. The case study of Britain is used to exemplify government action, however, given the encompassing nature of the issue general focus is given to the global stage.
As suggested above, government has deployed a variety of tools in order to bring about effective energy reduction. Let us first assess the measures which have attempted to bring about reductions in individual households using out British example.
Above all, the primary method adopted with regard to households in Britain has been to incentivise energy reduction by offering financial support aimed at reducing energy waste. The names applied to such financial incentives differ depending on the region of the country (i.e. England, Scotland, Wales etc) but nonetheless represent the same theoretical and practical application. Grants are available to individual households that meet certain financial criteria which aim to assist in improving heating and general energy efficiency. In England, this initiative is named Warm Front Grant and can potentially provide up to £6000 in grant funding to reduce energy waste by improving household efficiency (Energy Saving Trust, 2009). A variety of other financial incentives also act as the cornerstone of government policy with regards to household energy consumption. Moreover, government policy prescriptions in this area mirror the wider social policy agenda. In particular, the wish to instil partnership at the centre of the social policy process is personified by a variety of government moves. As such, the British government has realised the importance of ensuring an inclusive policy in the energy debate and thus actively encourages local government, individuals, community groups, businesses and energy suppliers to work in collaboration to reduce energy consumption (Zambini, 2006).
As such, the example of British government action towards energy efficiency provides a pertinent point of reference with which to conceptualise general efforts aimed at improving energy efficiency. Generally, the process of providing financial support to households is mirrored throughout much of the developed world (Zambini, 2006). However, such efforts merely form one component of a wider policy agenda. Other tools used in this regard include active legislative efforts which make it a legal requirement to conserve energy in an efficient manner. Whether such law based techniques represent the most effective and desirable method is often questioned. Above all, legislating against energy waste in a way that creates illegality is particularly irksome with regard to households. Naturally, problems pertaining to implementation are very evident. Moreover, actively applying and upholding new legislation aimed at reducing consumer energy consumption is fraught with potential problems (Zambini, 2006).
As such, the above discussion clearly highlights the extent to which problematic connotations arise with regard to government policy aimed at reducing consumer energy consumption in households. Above all, the most effective methods for success in this endeavour lie in altering the assumptions ordinary people hold towards energy use. The culture that propagates energy waste in the developed world thus represents the most serious dilemma for policy makers (Moeller, 2002). Indeed, this conclusion has not escaped the attention of both academic authorities and government policy makers. As such, numerous governments have attempted to set about investment in education and knowledge based initiatives which aim to alter the theoretical assumptions ordinary people make towards energy. This above all acts the most positive development in energy policy in the developed world. However, although such moves represent a step in the right direction, more has to be done in order to fundamentally alter the manner in which ordinary households view energy waste.
The problems that occur with regard to households are not quite as prevalent with regard to business activity. Above all, legislative action with regard to business energy efficiency is much easier to organise and maintain. Fiscal methods such as taxation have proved to often be an effective tool in urging businesses to reduce their energy waste (Blok, 2004). Moreover, law based guidelines such as those imposed on the British building industry provide for effective policy implementation. Building a new generation of energy efficient homes thus acts as a cornerstone of British government policy and is mirrored throughout much of the developed world (Zambini, 2006).
Naturally, financial incentives like those outlined with regard to households could also be beneficial in the business sector. However, the real benefit in business terms lies in creating the necessary financial reward that stems from energy saving. In particular, new and innovative research and development into energy saving techniques are of pivotal importance here and act as a two way process (BERR, 2009). On the one hand, governments can provide financial stimulus measures which assist in the development of new technologies. However, in order for such policy moves to achieve their maximum success, governments have realised that the active inclusion of the private sector is essential. As such, public/private partnerships are currently being fostered in many developed nations. In particular, the Canadian government has outlined a comprehensive policy agenda which aims to harness the innovative benefits of the private sector through the use of government financial assistance (Zambini, 2006). Therefore, it is clear how a number of benefits can be derived in business terms from developing new methods of energy saving. Reducing energy consumption in business thus not only serves a political purpose but also acts as a method of economic growth. Capitalist economic functioning based on the competitive market could therefore provide a variety of benefits. In the present economic climate around the world the development of new energy saving technologies thus provides a rare opportunity for business growth. Moreover, there are obvious long term financial benefits that be derived from reducing energy consumption in business activity.
As such, we can see how the business sector could potentially provide many of the answers to the question of energy consumption and reduction in waste. Above all, the most obvious way for developed nations to proceed is to instil the concept of public/private partnership at the centre of the debate. In doing so it will then be possible to harness the positive potential both of governments and the private sector in a way that brings about effective change. Naturally, problems will arise in the business sector just as they have done in individual households. Effectively monitoring business activity in a comprehensive fashion would be administratively expensive and thus may offset the positive financial potential derived from private sector research and development (Blok, 2004). Moreover, although the possible benefits for business development in the energy saving sector were suggested above, the present economic malaise may mean that both private and public sector actors could be reluctant to release funds which are not guaranteed to bring about worthwhile returns. Furthermore, just as with household consumption there is the problem of cultural attitudes towards energy which thus require immediate and concerted action. Above all, education on a basis of multi actor partnership is the most effective response in this regard. As such, the efforts of governments like Britain and Canada to instil the concept of partnership between a variety of actors is hugely positive.
The above discussion thus provides an evaluation of government policy aimed at reducing energy consumption. What is clear is that the policy agenda in this regard has a number of wider connotations. As such, it is essential that both academic authorities and policy makers set about fully comprehending the diverse nature of the issue. Above all, the concept of partnership as personified in the British approach is vital if success is to be achieved. Ultimately, no single actor however powerful can bring about an effective resolution to this problem when acting in isolation. Therefore, although government forces have a central role to play in the process, this role must be undertaken on much broader and encompassing level. When such is achieved it may then be possible to address the real underlying issue of concern on this subject, namely the cultural assumptions that still lead to wasteful energy use in the developed world. Altering cultural assumptions will take time, however such alteration is pivotal if effective resolution to this most pertinent of concerns is to be realised.
BERR. (2009) ‘Energy’ [online resource] cited 11/05/2009, available at; http://www.berr.gov.uk/energy/.
Blok, K et al. (2004) The Effectiveness of Policy Instruments for Energy Efficiency Improvement in Firms, London: Springer.
Energy Saving Trust. (2009) ‘Energy Saving Grants and Offers’ [online resource] cited 11/05/2009, available at; http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/What-can-I-do-today/Energy-saving-grants-and-offers.
Moeller, S. (2002) Energy Efficiency: issues and trends, London: Nova.
Taylor, R. P. (2008) Financing Energy Efficiency: lessons from Brazil, China, India, and beyond, New York: World Bank.
Zambini, L. (2006) Energy Efficiency, London: Nova.