Women Buying Green: first findings

14 Mar 2019

By 2050, one in five people worldwide will be over 65 years of age. Women, on average, live about four years longer than men, and older women are more likely to be poor, socially isolated, badly housed, and spend longer hours at home. Households’ energy investment decisions, therefore are going to more heavily affect women than men. And, yet, energy investments decisions are often made by men.

The uptake of low carbon technologies, energy-saving behaviours and “behind the meter” strategies for introducing renewable technologies in houses with elderly inhabitants could help the decarbonisation of the energy system - and allow the electricity network to defer grid investments.

Consumers have a key role to play in supporting a market-oriented and more flexible energy system over the coming years. Prof. Griffith (from Ulster Unversity) stressed the importance of the human factor regarding energy consumption and described its interaction with other key factors such as building services, building envelop and climate.

The workshop

A UKERC-funded workshop brought together researchers with expertise in energy (Ulster University), environmental and behavioural economics (Queen’s University Belfast), stakeholders (Housing Executive) and industry (Kingspan) to understand the role of age, latency, gender and how to empower the next generation of elderly women for a transition to low-carbon technologies at the household level.

The overarching project “Women Buying Green” has 3 primary objectives: 1) To describe current and future trends in energy demand - their implications for the energy system and for the environment; 2) To better understand the role that age and gender play in energy use; and 3) To explore the potential for new technologies and policies around low-carbon investments to promote energy-saving behaviours in the home.

Consumers have a key role to play in supporting a market-oriented and more flexible energy system over the coming years.

The two Cs: comfort and cost

Prof. Griffith stressed the importance of the human factor regarding energy. He emphasised the role that a satisfactory perception of the thermal environment (thermal comfort) plays when considering energy consumption and how the further understanding of the factors associated with it – age, gender, body mass index (BMI)- could be important to building design and the ability to deliver zero carbon.

Mr. Frew and Mr. Rennie further elaborated upon energy efficient designs by bringing expertise about the most successful low carbon initiatives that could affect future demand and a feedback on the uptake of low carbon technologies.

They identified specific cost-effective actions to minimise construction build-up and improve the thermal performance and insulation properties of existing buildings including, among others, the cavity and external wall insulation, internal drylining, and heating systems for individually controlled zones.

Moving beyond cavity insulation

Picking up where last presenters left off, Dr. Cotter presented the results of a study that tests the thermal performance of Thermally Active Building Systems (TABS) as compared to Passive Cavity walls. TABS have become a standard for energy efficient use of renewable energy for heating and cooling due to the excellent thermal comfort it offers.

Dr. Cotter concluded that the application of such an initiative in the household level ensures the cost-effective (low maintenance and operating costs) delivery of optimal seasonal internal temperatures, a healthier indoor environment (silent system), and the balance of poorly heated parts of the building in all orientations.

Considering gender and demand

Focusing on the demand side response in the domestic electricity sector, Prof. Longo stressed the importance of gender when it comes to future investments. He identified that women have shown a higher willingness to pay for investments in the sector to reduce the risk of power cuts and from extreme weather events, while there is no significant difference when supporting new investments for the future.

This positive predisposition reflects the obvious, that is the potential impact of women's participation in decision-making when it comes to energy efficient initiatives in the household level. Exploring the role of women could help identify the exact factors that tend to influence their energy related decisions and drive them to adopt a lower carbon behaviour. That, in turn, could help support a more market-oriented and flexible energy system over the coming years.

With older consumers, building fabric comes first

According to Dr. Doyle, the factors that generally influence households’ energy decisions are the reduction of energy costs and energy use respectively for homeowners and rental occupiers. Dr. Doyle also argued in favour of behavioural change initiatives when targeting younger people, while initiatives related to structural, building fabric updates should be preferred for older ones. Such an approach to reducing energy demand and saving money can have a significant impact on the long-term health and well-being of occupants, particularly when dealing with vulnerable groups.

Jargon-free, accessible information is key

However, for any energy reduction strategy in the domestic household sector to be successful, several challenges should be first addressed. Dr. Gosh stressed the importance of information

required for energy related gender issues and financial assistance, as well as the provision of easily accessible, non-technical knowledge from service providers to general public.

Conclusion

It is clear from the discussion that women have a growing role to play in demand-side management of energy. By examining how women use, understand, and manage energy, we can help them not only to increase their awareness, agency and wellbeing, but also to find ways to reduce energy demand and fuel poverty.

That would, in turn, offer a new and compelling approach to support whole energy systems by designing flexible market-oriented technologies and policy initiatives that promote greater demand response and reduce the current and future energy demand of houses with elderly inhabitants