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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Energy Sufficiency in Housing – The role of m² living area

Energy Sufficiency in Housing – The role of m² living area To reduce energy use in buildings the orthodox solutions are mainly measures of efficiency (through more efficient boilers and other installations) isolation (of walls, roofs and pipes) and the switch to renewable energy sources in combination with information and promotion measures to raise awareness for the problem or economic incentives. Despite all efforts of such efficiency strategies the potential for energy savings in buildings is still applied rather slowly in most countries. In addition improvements have unintended consequences including improved comfort levels in retrofitted dwellings, overheating following the improvements, potential under-performance of low-carbon systems due to lack of understanding and inadequate installation and commissioning, along with adaptive energy behaviours leading to increased energy use and a widening gap between predicted and actual savings (Soetanto, Gupta et al. 2014). Recognising the limits of efficiency calls for turning attention towards measures and instruments for energy savings in terms of sufficiency. The presentation presents the findings of the research project EUFORIE which identified promising instruments and instrument mixes to promote energy sufficiency (Lorek 2018) What the actual policy mainstream is ignoring so far is the major challenge which appears through the constant increase in per capita living area. Obviously, more floor space needs more energy for space heating and cooling, ventilation, and lighting, but it also allows the household to operate more and or bigger appliances, all of which increase energy consumption. Whether this is an indication of peoples willingness to consume (Røpke 1999) or if they are locked in (Sanne 2002) is an ongoing debate. In any case, instruments for limiting average dwelling floor area per person has to become an important part of a sustainability energy policy package as they address one important driver of energy consumption and non-sufficiency (Thomas, Brischke et al. 2015). First calculations about a sustainable floor space are made and range from 13,9m² as lower estimate for a single household to 120m² as higher estimate for a 4-person household. Developing policies towards sufficiency need courage and mutual support in a joint effort of actors, at all levels of society. Single actors will not be able to achieve much, and if they try, the costs – whether factual or felt by them – might be too high. In times where the timeslot for reaching EU energy targets and dramatically reducing CO2 emissions are narrowing sufficiency strategies are required to set a clear framework in which efficiency policies can lead to the required absolute reductions. To overcome the restricted perspective that sufficiency is a purely individual decision the paper introcuces policies for the different levels of governance. They rank from adjusting requirements for minimum dwelling size and caps for further soil sealing on the national or even EU level to the establishment of sufficiency consultancy on the local level. Such policies have to be embedded in activities at a societal level where NGOs raise awareness for the issue and housing companies in collaboration with architects and urban planners develop creative ideas where sufficient lifestyles can flourish in sufficient neighbourhoods.

Lorek, S. (2018), 'Identification of promising instruments and instrument mixes to promote energy sufficiency'. EUFORIE - European Futures for Energy Efficiency. Deliverable 5.5. Røpke, I. (1999), 'The dynamics of willingness to consume', Ecological Economics, 28 (3), 399-420. Sanne, C. (2002), 'Willing consumers—or locked-in? Policies for a sustainable consumption', Ecological Economics, 42 (1-2), 273-287. Soetanto, R., R. Gupta & L. Barnfield (2014), 'Unravelling the unintended consequences of home energy improvements', International Journal of Energy Sector Management 8(4), 506-526. Thomas, S., L.-A. Brischke, J. Thema & M. Kopatz (2015), 'Energy sufficiency policy: an evolution of energy efficiency policy or radically new approaches?'. In: Eceee - Summer Study on Energy Efficiency (ed.) Keeping energy efficiency on the top of the agenda. Belambra Presqu'île de Giens, France, 1-6 June 2015.

Sylvia Lorek
Sustainable Europe Research Institute


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