Comments about the energy efficiency survey by Jean-Marie Chevalier

Jean-Marie Chevalier has been Vice President at Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) since 1997. He has been Consultant for various companies, banks, government agencies and international organizations. He has been professor at Sciences-Po Paris from 1982 to 1990 and Professor of Economics at Université Paris-Dauphine since 1991 (Center for energy and raw materials geopolitics – CGEMP).

Improving energy efficiency is a major strategic priority for any energy policy. A Rexel-commissioned survey addressing this issue was conducted by Harris Interactive in July 2011. The survey compares citizen-consumers’ perceptions of energy efficiency in four countries: France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. A number of important conclusions could be useful to governments and political parties for developing their energy policy and also to industry companies for revising their strategic priorities.

  • Households are aware of the importance of energy efficiency

Between 86% and 92% of German, American, British and French respondents assign importance to energy efficiency. Between 87% and 89% state they are careful about how much energy they use, citing lower consumption, and thus cost-cutting, as their primary reason.

This awareness reflects a good analysis of the situation. Over the medium and long term, energy prices are likely to rise. Various pressures are affecting the supply/demand balance for oil, gas and electricity, including emerging countries’ frenzied demand for oil and electricity products, delayed investments and difficult discussions about the contribution of nuclear power. Moreover, the acceleration in global warming has become increasingly alarming and should serve as an incentive to improve energy efficiency, develop less carbon-intensive energy sources and reduce emissions. In this environment, there are two ways to adapt: energy efficiency (energy savings) and the diversification of energy sources.

  • The survey confirms that French citizens have been changing their energy efficiency behaviors in recent years

Since 2008, with the rise in fuel prices and the introduction of the “bonus-malus system”* for cars, individuals have been using less gasoline. According to June 2011 figures published by the Comité Professionnel du Pétrole (CPDP), fuel deliveries to the French market declined by 3.1% compared to June 2010. This likely indicates a permanent change in behaviors.

Along the same lines, the survey commissioned by Rexel emphasizes that 91% of French respondents believe it is up to the consumer to save energy – more so than the government or manufacturers. This is an interesting indication of French citizens’ sense of responsibility toward this issue.

* A French system in which the car buyer pays a surcharge or additional tax (malus) if the car emits too much CO2 but may receive a rebate from the government (bonus) if emissions fall below a certain amount.

  • Of the four nationalities surveyed, the French seem slightly less active on the energy efficiency front, with only 47% assigning it major importance compared to 60% of Germans, Americans and Britons.

This attitude may reflect the French energy model, based on nuclear energy and electricity that is generally less expensive. Involvement will likely increase in coming years, and political leaders should probably take steps to raise awareness at a faster pace.

First, electricity rates, politically frozen, prevent the French consumer from becoming aware of the need to increase electricity prices in the near future. Electricity is artificially cheaper in France because rates have been maintained at a low level even though EDF’s costs have continued to rise. Rates will have to be increased in the short or medium term because all economic indicators point to cost rises and prices must reflect this trend.

Second, France’s electrical power situation has changed: a structural exporter for some 20 years, we now import electricity in winter and depend on our German neighbor, which has had to make major strategic decisions after abandoning its nuclear program. For 20 years, we have experienced new peaks in power demand (93.752 megawatts on December 14, 2010 according to data published by the Réseau de Transport d’Electricité [RTE], compared to 93.080 megawatts on February 11, 2010). Unfortunately, this peak demand will likely increase on a yearly basis over the next 10 years. France thus imports its electricity during these peak periods, mainly from Germany. And Germany’s abandonment of nuclear power may have serious consequences for our ability to get through these peaks.

  • The serious economic crisis, which is constraining the budgets of individuals and central and local governments, makes it all the more difficult to implement energy efficiency programs

Until now, central governments have used tax and financial incentives as leverage to change the behavior of economic players. By placing strong pressure on government budgets, the crisis is limiting this set of incentives.

Household behaviors are therefore the major drivers of energy efficiency. We know that households are sensitive to the financial impact of energy efficiency. According the survey, French households are willing to invest in more expensive equipment if it’s more profitable in the short or medium term (69%), but they are not willing to spend more without any prospect for potential savings (18%). The results are comparable in the other countries studied.

These results have been corroborated by several surveys, especially the Eurobarometer of April 2011, which showed that the consumers are not willing to pay more for energy but are willing to implement energy-efficient measures if the impact on their budget is limited over time. Citizen-consumers are very sensitive to energy prices, which politicians know all too well, but rather than entertaining illusions, they should use tools designed to increase energy efficiency. Decision-makers all along the energy supply chain should be made aware of this expressed need: what resources are households offered for measuring their energy consumption and the savings they can achieve?

  • To take further steps to be energy efficient, consumers want information about their electricity consumption and the savings they can expect from changing their behaviors or from their investments

The survey reveals a relatively large gap between households’ interest in being energy efficient and their specific knowledge. This is especially unfortunate since they report a willingness to devote time to adopting certain energy-saving behaviors (76% of French respondents claim they are willing). This availability is a very important factor that has been previously underestimated.

A smart electric meter, linked to future smart grids, are probably one of the keys to adopting energy efficiency measures. They will allow individuals to measure their energy use as well as their financial return on investments. These grids will enable the development of renewable energies and the installation of electrical equipment in buildings for the purpose of, for example, adjusting energy consumption on the basis of price and production capacity.

In the shorter term, the French will need access to more information about the profitability of the energy-efficient products and services that they are offered.

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