Home Database Adaptation options Consumer-side adaptation options in the energy sector – changes in individual behaviour
Adaptation option

Consumer-side adaptation options in the energy sector – changes in individual behaviour

Adequate light clothing, timing of daily activities set in order to avoid intense efforts when temperatures are at their highest, and even simply opening doors and window to remove heated air can reduce significantly the cooling needs. Clothing can be a very effective lever to reduce cooling needs in offices, for instance, where dressing codes can be relaxed in summer to reduce to allow keeping higher indoor temperatures without prejudicing workers’ thermal comfort. The Cool Biz campaign in Japan dates back to 2005 and promotes a range of behavioural changes such as: “allowing workers to take longer summer holidays, adding greenery in the office, allowing men to wear short sleeves and to forgo ties and jackets in summer months, and relying on blinds and curtains more often”, which together allow keeping the thermostat in office buildings at 28 °C in late spring and summer. Note that the campaign was conceived as an energy saving measure, not as an adaptation one; however, its mode of action is inherently based on an adaptation mechanism. While widely successful, this campaign could be far more effective if coupled with a revision of building codes.

Information campaigns on the correct use of air conditioning can also be effective. Typically these campaigns encourage consumers to set indoor temperatures at a reasonable level, either pre-specified or as a delta with respect to outdoor temperature. They may also provide common sense tips such as avoiding cooling unoccupied rooms or closing doors and windows when air-cooling is active.

More technologically sophisticated demand-side options entail using occupancy sensors and remote temperature setting. The latter option is particularly interesting when implemented directly by electric utilities, because it can help shedding effectively peak demand when the electricity system is under excessive stress. The fact that consumers in this case would give up their ability to select directly their desired indoor temperatures calls for adequate contractual compensations.

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Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural, Social: Informational

Stakeholder participation

These options are by definition targeting individuals. Thus stakeholder participation is implicit. Potential conflicts can arise with workers for the implementation within office buildings and can be resolved through union negotiations.

Success and Limiting Factors

The strong point of this class of option is their cost-effectiveness: behavioural measures can be implemented practically for free, can result in significant behavioural changes and actually can lead to win-win solutions through savings on the energy bill. At the macroscale level, the interaction with the promotion of energy efficiency is also a strong point in that policy measures (such as energy labelling, energy performance standards, subsidies, etc.) implemented to support the diffusion of energy efficient appliances also create a very favourable environment to virtuous behaviour towards air-conditioning use.

The main limiting factor is that, being ultimately in the hand of individuals, they are prone to the some of the fallacies affecting behavioural measures in general, such as moral licensing (if other environmental friendly actions have been performed, people may feel they have a “moral licence” to be less environmental friendly on this specific regard); or they may not always be mindful of environmental concerns because they may happen not to be in a state of mind to take rational decisions and they act on the basis of impulse or habits, or simply they may not willing and/or able to pay the due attention to understand the information necessary to implement the behaviour changes, because this issue is not salient enough to change their usual train of life. Thus it is important that behavioural measures are always accompanied by other ones, such as regulations and standards, because, while frequently beneficial, they cannot guarantee the achievement of a given policy target by themselves.

Costs and Benefits

Costs for individuals are negligible and the associated savings on energy bills can actually result in a net gain.

Technology-based behavioural changes such as occupancy sensors and sophisticated programmable thermostats do come with a price tag, which is however comparable to other usual electronic appliances currently present in our homes.

There are no major legal aspects for residential consumers, except for contractual arrangements for remote setting of indoor temperatures by electric utilities. Contractual issues may arise between employees and employers about the thermal comfort of the working environment, but such issues can be solved through negotiation.

Implementation Time

Immediate, except perhaps the little time needed to familiarise with concepts and procedures related to the proposed behavioural change.

Life Time

No specific duration. If continuously implemented individual practices last can last forever. The Coolbiz Campaign in Japan is still in place since 2005.

Reference information


Published in Climate-ADAPT Mar 18 2020   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Nov 07 2023

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