Can a government campaign persuade Britain to use less energy? | Energetic efficiency

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gGovernment officials considering whether to launch a public campaign to cut energy use this winter may want to look away from the backlash to last week’s heat wave advice. As temperatures soared, the government and health agencies advised Britons how to stay safe in the heat. Response from Twitter users? A flurry of laconic comments. “The nanny state has spoken,” it read. “Most normal adults already know that,” scolded another.

As the country battles extreme heat, the debate in Westminster is about how to keep people warm this winter. Underlying the discussion are the twin issues of soaring energy bills, which could exceed £3,000 by October, and the prospect of supply shortages caused by the invasion of Ukraine. Industry watchers have called for government intervention, including increased financial support after Rishi Sunak’s £15billion package presented in May and formal consumer advice this winter.

However, the government seems far from certain that the latter will happen. Asked about potential messages to consumers this winter, a senior official at an energy industry conference told executives this month the issue was being discussed in Westminster. But she argued that “people are tired of being told what to do. With Partygate it was clear that we were saying one thing and doing another and that feeling is still there.”

On Thursday, National Grid is due to release its initial outlook, which will detail its expectations for energy supply and demand this winter.

The reality of Europe’s winter energy outlook lies in the hands of Vladimir Putin, who may decide to strangle economies by cutting gas supplies. Although Britain is not dependent on Russian gas, any cut could drive up energy prices even further or divert supplies planned for Britain elsewhere. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng sought to shore up coal and gas supplies for the winter, while Shell boss Ben van Beurden warned gas rationing could be coming.

The government may decide to call into action its behavioral analysis team – known as the “nudge unit”. Created by David Cameron’s government, the unit seeks to apply behavioral science to public policy. The government last year sold a one-third stake for £15.4m to Nesta, the UK’s foundation for innovation.

Speed ​​limits may be imposed on autobahns in Germany. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP

In Germany, the authorities are already mobilizing. Drivers were warned that speed limits could be imposed on the highway to reduce fuel consumption and rationed hot water.

Influencing public behavior on energy use is a delicate task. Suppliers’ websites are full of handy tips for saving energy, including turning down the room heating to a constant 21C, filling up your dishwasher and washing machine and turning them on at night to use cheaper energy; unplug appliances you are not using and drain your radiators. However, these efforts can backfire. Last year, a series of ill-judged tips backfired on provider Ovo. He was forced to apologize after advising customers to cuddle their pets, eat porridge and do star jumps to keep warm.

Suppliers have also been urged not to use heavy-handed tactics to push consumers who cannot afford direct debits to prepaid meters, which are more expensive. The British Gas Energy Trust, which is funded by Centrica and offers advice on energy debt, launched a campaign called Stop the Silence to raise awareness of the help available with rapper Professor Green earlier this year.

Angela Terry, environmental scientist and founder of climate change action group One Home, says any large-scale campaign needs to focus on insulation. She says: “Old and vulnerable people will freeze in their homes because they can’t afford to heat themselves. They must be literally insulated from these extraordinary price increases.

“Telling people to fill their kettle correctly could save them £20, but proper insulation will save thousands of dollars in a matter of months. Urging the public to love their loft to save money and get rid of Putin’s essence would be a great campaign. The UK has the least insulated housing stock in Europe and only 58% of UK homes meet 1970s insulation standards.

Woman under blanket with hot water bottle eating porridge
Tips for warming up by eating backfiring porridge on the energetic Ovo. Photograph: Islandstock/Alamy

The International Energy Agency has urged consumers to lower their thermostats by 1°C to reduce their need for Russian gas.

Stew Horne, policy officer at the Energy Saving Trust, says advice needs to be unbiased and responsive. “There’s a lot of interest in how you retrofit your home to make it more efficient and a lot of government support – but people don’t know where to start. To trigger behavior change, support must be personalized,” he says.

Horne cites programs in Bristol and Scotland offering free advice on how to make homes more efficient. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers consumers £5,000 for the installation of air-source heat pumps, while the Home Upgrade Grant aims to help low-income households improve the energy efficiency of their homes. their house.

A government service, Simple Energy Advice, offers free help on home energy performance and low-carbon heating.

Sarah Baumann is managing director of advertising agency VaynerMedia and has worked on numerous public information campaigns throughout her career, including the Think! road safety campaign and an adult literacy and numeracy campaign called “Our Future. It is in our hands”.

She says “carrot and stick” approaches are important for such campaigns. “There always has to be a deterrent or a catalyst sitting underneath the marketing. With energy – are you going with the cost of living angle, potential gas shortages – which can panic people – or the climate crisis? All three could be equally motivating,” she says.

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The price for an agency landing such a contract could be lucrative. The government has already given similar dossiers to established agencies such as Freuds, the agency behind Live Aid and Comic Relief, and M&C Saatchi, which has been the subject of a bidding battle this year. London agency MullenLowe was among the winners of the Covid information campaign, including work on the NHS vaccination programme.

Baumann says: “It should be more subtle than general Covid campaigns. People’s situations are so different. If you have a conservative leader who lives in a comfort level preaching frugality and delivering the message about rationing, you need to think very carefully about what you are communicating.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘The UK has no gas or electricity supply problems, and the government is fully prepared for any scenario, even those that are extreme and very unlikely to happen.”

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