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  • Writer's pictureMonash CDES Blog

From Ignorance to Efficiency - The Knowledge-Driven Energy Revolution

For a world that is constantly on the move, the idea of life without energy is unimaginable to say the least. Nevertheless, many developing countries often contend with frequent power outages that disrupt daily lives. It is surprising yet true that there are regions, even in this day and age, where burning the midnight oil is not an idiom but a way of life. From a record of countries facing the most number of blackouts, a list predominantly populated by Asian countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan emerged as the frontrunners, with the most recent blackouts in these two nations combined affecting more than 300 million people in 2022-2023 alone. According to Reuters, Bangladesh has been going through the worst electricity crisis in a decade with power cuts of 113 days in 2022 and 114 days only five months into 2023. Government data reveals that the supply shortfalls can be attributed to fuel shortages, and unfortunately, there are no signs of improvement on the horizon.

In response to the escalating challenges posed by rising power outages and electricity supply shortages, addressing the need for energy conservation has become an imperative step for countries around the world. Energy conservation, the key to a more sustainable future, extends beyond governmental actions, encompassing individual choices in our daily routines. From utilizing energy-efficient appliances to practicing habits like turning off unnecessary lights, these actions contribute not only to cost savings but also play a pivotal role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and safeguarding our planet's well-being.

Over the past few years, Bangladesh has shifted its focus towards expanding the adoption of renewable energy sources, aiming to facilitate a transition towards cleaner and more sustainable forms of energy. While the move towards renewable energy is a significant step, it remains equally vital to enhance energy efficiency as part of the broader effort to achieve cleaner energy transitions. Energy conservation has become especially critical within the context of developing countries, where households frequently endure power outages stemming from electricity supply shortages. Furthermore, residential electricity consumption contributes significantly to global energy-related CO2 emissions, accounting for 40% of the total, and this proportion is expected to rise, particularly in developing nations.

As of 2013, the electricity and heat production sector was responsible for 50% of CO2 emissions, with residential sources representing a fifth of this total and exhibiting an upward trajectory. Among the various effective strategies implemented by the Bangladeshi government to reduce electricity wastage, the installation of gas meters in every household played a pivotal role. The World Bank, one of the first development partners for the project, noted that the installation of the meters would help reduce consumer burden, system losses and gas wastage. Before the initiative, households used to be charged a flat tariff for gas use regardless of their consumption.

Although government strategies involving pricing are crucial for collective improvement, investigating and understanding the effects of non-price energy conservation strategies on residential electricity consumption in developing nations provide valuable insights and policy implications.

A recent study conducted by Monash University’s Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability reports evidence, through a randomized control trial conducted in Bangladesh, that providing advice on saving energy could significantly reduce households’ energy consumption. The study tested three types of non-price energy conservation strategies influencing the residential energy consumption of households. The first treatment, namely knowledge treatment, offered advice on electricity conservation methods. The second treatment, suburb comparison, provided information about own electricity consumption relative to others in the same suburb. A third treatment, neighbour comparison, provided information about own electricity consumption relative to neighbours. Results indicated advice on electricity conservation methods has stronger effects than neighbour and suburb comparisons on the reduction in energy use.

The trial involved 2,394 households in cooperation with IPDC Bangladesh, with support from the Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC Ltd.). To assess the immediate impact of the interventions on power consumption, households received preprinted energy conservation recommendations and descriptive data on the typical energy usage of either their median neighbor or the median household in their suburb. This information was provided three times during 2017, and the households were surveyed four times. Following the conclusion of the intervention phase, the households were revisited to assess the long-term effects of the interventions.

The impact of the intervention was most pronounced within the knowledge group, where households exhibited the most substantial changes. In comparison to the control group, the knowledge group demonstrated a progressively declining trend in power consumption. Furthermore, the intervention had varying timelines for each group, with the knowledge group experiencing the quickest results, followed by the neighbour and suburb comparison groups. In the knowledge treatment group, there was a significant reduction in energy use just one month after the intervention commenced, whereas it took approximately three months for both the neighbour and suburb comparison groups to achieve similar reductions. Interestingly, the intervention had a lasting impact on households, as treatment effects remained observable even after a year had passed.

This study is the first of its kind to provide evidence from a developing country about the relative effectiveness of energy conservation information in influencing residential energy consumption.

According to the findings, providing simple advice on energy conservation could be a useful strategy for decreasing energy use in urban middle-class households in Bangladesh.

The research suggests all households may be able to cut back on their energy use if they were reminded to do so, but average and efficient users would not be able to do so as much as inefficient users because these families already used less energy. The study additionally proposes that when social-norm information is consistently reinforced through repeated feedback, it leads to a reduction in electricity consumption.

The study highlights a simple yet powerful concept: knowledge, when harnessed effectively, possesses the potential to instigate transformative changes capable of bettering our planet, addressing challenges one step at a time.

Saima Khan

19 September 2023


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