How do we get people to care about their energy usage?

13 Feb 2019

Image: © Monkey Business/

It’s our job to ensure everyone realises the power they have over their energy usage, writes Joe Devlin of Elastic Energy.

I always find the start of each year a bit strange. Some resolutions are in full flight; others have been consigned to the ‘I’ll try again next year’ pile. I suppose it’s the juxtaposition of that newfound hope everyone has on 1 January with the harsh realities of daily life that intrigues me.

Some pledges make it out the other end of January. The campaign for ‘Veganuary’ seems like it was a big hit. Why? Surely the usual January promise to exercise three times a week takes less discipline and effort than going vegan?

Maybe that’s it. Maybe when we make a step change in our life, instead of pledging a small incremental change, our success rate increases. We commit to the change before it even happens. We’re all in, and we know it won’t be easy.

Maybe our success rate depends on more than just the individual. We desire a sense of belonging to a movement, having a place in a community, a belief that the sum of many individual step changes can drive global change.

Now we’re talking. Who wouldn’t want in on that?

Getting people to care is the holy grail of delivering impactful, lasting change. And we need plenty of that when it comes to how we produce and consume our energy. It needs to come soon, as the clock is ticking on humankind’s ability to mitigate climate change.

young man wearing shirt and dark jacket standing outside in a city street with lights and cars in background.

Joe Devlin. Image: TechWatch

So, how do we get people to care about their energy use? In the absence of a viral Instagram commitment similar to Veganuary, we need to get the right incentive to the right person at the right time.

In the short term, there needs to be a carrot for every stick. The small incremental change has the ability to add up to a larger step change if encouraged and rewarded. Then, before we know it, everyone starts caring about every unit of electricity bought, sold and consumed.

Lofty, I know. Possible? Undoubtedly. Let’s take tea drinkers, for instance. According to the Energy Saving Trust, more than two-thirds of people in Britain boil more water than they need. If all those people just boiled enough, then over the course of a year they would save enough energy to run half the streetlights in the country. A prime example of small everyday changes adding up to a pretty big difference.

But what’s the right incentive to achieve these big results? That silver bullet hasn’t been invented yet. Energy, at its heart, is a personal thing. Our consumption is directly correlated with our lives and what we value. Maybe I’m always in a rush. If I only put enough water in my kettle, it’ll boil faster. Maybe I hate the taste of my tea when the water is boiled multiple times. Maybe reducing my electricity bill is the main driver behind only boiling what I need.

Making energy personal is our only hope. The good news is that we can do it. Energy markets are evolving and making these types of interactions commercially viable. So too are energy suppliers; faced with an ever-increasing competitive landscape, they’re refining their customer offerings and preparing for the rise of the connected home. The technology, data, algorithms and relationships all exist to put the consumer back at the heart of the energy system.

It’s our job to ensure everyone realises the power they have over their energy usage. And, ultimately, our future on this planet.

By Joe Devlin, co-founder of Elastic Energy 

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland