DSM aims at releasing the vast potential for cost-efficient energy efficiency that is locked in on the demand side (ie with the energy user). Releasing this potential however, proves very challenging, for various reasons:
One of the main challenges is that humans are often still regarded as economically rational actors whose behaviours can be influenced by fiscal incentives and information provision alone. However, the complexities influencing human behaviour are so vast and manifold that such simplistic approaches almost invariably fail. It is imperative to uncover the context-specific factors (from infrastructure, capital constraints, values, attitudes, norms, culture, tradition, climate, geography, education, political system, legislature, etc) that influence human behaviour, and design DSM interventions accordingly.
In addition, there are a large variety of research disciplines that endeavour to study human behaviour (social and environmental psychology, environmental and behavioural economics, anthropology, science technology studies, practice and innovation diffusion theory etc), each with their own models and frameworks, advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, they usually do not communicate well – not with each other and not with the end users of their research – the policymakers and DSM programme designers and implementers. This leads to confusion and lack of context-specific programme or policy design that is based on the best behavioural information or models.
Another crucial issue relates to monitoring, understanding, learning about and adapting initiatives in a more systematic manner. DSM projects demonstrate great diversity of goals, scope, participants, resources, etc to meet the diversity of implementing environments. As a consequence, developing a generic evaluation and monitoring framework that is widely applicable and does justice to this diversity is difficult. However, there is a real and urgent need for more appropriate and effective monitoring, evaluation and learning of successful DSM implementation.
In conclusion, there is no behaviour change silver bullet, like there is no technological silver bullet. Designing the right programmes and policies that can be measured and evaluated to have achieved lasting behaviour and social norm change is difficult. However, we believe that the time is ripe to bring together the world’s experts in research, policy and DSM implementation and share learnings, best practice and knowledge. Collaboration is often the key to better results, and this area of energy research is more dependent on collaboration and knowledge sharing than any other.