The most pervasive barrier to increased energy efficiency and environmentally sound practices is simply the lack of information about the impact of our decisions and how they can be improved. Many families do not realise what they can do to end (or reduce) energy waste in their own homes. Building owners and operators do not know how operation and maintenance and retrofit decisions can reduce their energy costs. Entrepreneurs do not recognise the potential market for new energy-saving products and services. Because of the large number and diversity of the decision-makers in the buildings sector, this barrier requires special education and information programmes and the establishment of a permanent consulting infrastructure. Governments can play an influential role through Best Practices guides, school curricula and public education campaigns.
There are many audiences for these programmes. Homeowner guides provide practical, money-saving tips. Adult training programmes teach building engineers how to manage and operate the new energy systems of commercial buildings. Business and finance classes show how to develop bankable projects. Innovative school curricula combine lessons on energy sources and environmental issues with how to read meters and calculate utility bills.
At a deeper level (of involvement), these programmes encounter behavioural barriers, such as the limited ability of individuals to deal with life cycle cost minimisation due to the complexity of this concept, lack of data, and the low priority given to energy use, which remains a relatively small fraction of the total costs of owning and operating buildings in many countries. Another behavioural barrier is a short time horizon--consumers often demand two or three year paybacks (i.e., high implicit discount rates) even though there is a societal interest in accepting longer paybacks on efficient and renewable energy measures. To a greater or lesser degree in all countries, poverty is a barrier. Impoverished consumers often are forced to buy the cheapest product available, even if this means higher future energy, environmental and social costs in the long term.
When confronting these barriers, does the provision of free technical information really influence human behaviour? A recent study by the Resources for the Future seeks to answer this question as it applies to a private firm by modelling the many factors that go into a company's decisions on whether to invest in energy-efficient lighting. The study found that information programmes make a significant contribution to the transfer of efficient lighting in commercial buildings, although these programmes are less important than the basic price signals (Morgenstern, 1996).
International programmes offer a relatively low cost and highly important mechanism for exchanging information on ESTs. For example, the Centre for the Analysis and Dissemination of Demonstrated Energy Technologies (CADDET) of the International Energy Agency (IEA) provides a large and growing computer database of more than 1,600 energy efficiency and renewable energy demonstration projects (CADDET, 1998). CADDET also provides valuable analyses of technology applications. Designed to complement national programmes, CADDET is now seeking to provide information to persons in developing countries.
Although the transfer of information from developed to developing countries is important, a higher priority also needs to be given to the transfer of information about the energy-using patterns and opportunities in developing countries to developed countries, and the exchange of information among developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
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