Energy consumption behaviours’ observation study in private dwellings.

Marguerite BONNIN (LAVUE ; CSTB)

In order to cover the existing deficit about how daily activities of energy consumption in housing really happen, we conducted an observation study concentrated on private housing deprived with an ethnographical approach, that is resting on data observed in situ (presence of five days in six households’ housing, from waking up until bedtime, with statement minute after minute of the inhabitants’ gestures, movement, without participation of the investigator in the domestic activities).
These observations, retranscribed in the form of index cards (plan of the accommodation, equipments in use, presence and position of the household’s members and activity), allow to read the link between energy consumption and material capital of the households, revealing the degree of adequacy of the housing to the activities of the various household’s members.
Reviewing the various domains of consumption (lighting, heating / aeration, food, hygiene, leisure activities / work), for these households, tend to reveal the general logic of their relationship to energy:
- Their relationship to energy bills may result of an utilitarian or dysinformed relationship to energy consumption
- Their lifestyle (between modernity and tradition) may influences housework length of time as well as practices connected to cooking, and reveal different cases of mutualization or outsourcing of energy use
- Tactics of energy consumption are then properly developed, mainly aiming at a saving of time in two key moments of the day, in the morning and in the evening, periods of stronger energy consumption. By developing these tactics, they reduce these consumptions which otherwise would be more important.
- Resources and position in the life cycle of this household also determine their home’s appropriation and the organization of their inhabited spaces, aiming to turn their home comfortable.
The determining variables of the various modes of energy consumption allow to understand that if energy consumption always comes as a medium of the inhabitant’s expression of an identity, energy allows above all the implementation of the spatial comfort and regulates intimacy’s issues.
These conclusions allow to seize the importance of the housing architectural plan’s design which suggests, allows and impose a certain type of inhabitant practices, and consequences that adequacies or inadequacies can have on the practices of energy consumption. Inhabitants actions and reactions at various stages of their life cycle, according to their revenues, to their residential capital and to equipments which they have at their disposal allow to illustrate a panel of diverse situations.

KEY WORDS: co-ownership, behaviours, energy consumption, ethnographic observation research.

The evening meal and electric peak demand in France : linking daily practices and energy consumption through the use of time use surveys.


Pricing and technological measures are regularly designed to encourage consumers not to consume during time of peak electricity demand. Usually, only the average outcome of these measures are assessed, keeping the diversity of the underlying everyday practices hidden. We offer to study these practices, their meanings and associated constraints so as to understand how they can change.
This work focuses on the analysis of the daily peak through the activities related to the evening meal, which plays a central rôle in the household daily planning and energy conumption. The methodological challenge is also to produce a quantitative analysis of the complexity of energy consumption underlying practices.
Different types of meals have been described based on the quantitative data collected in the French Time Use Surveys, in terms of time, participants, places, and appliances. Surrounding activities allowed to specify the meanings and constraints attached to each type of meal. Knowing when appliances are used as part of specific practices make it possible to envision how these practices could change and affect peak demand, whether the result of pricing measures or of more likely deeper social evolutions.

KEY WORDS: peak, electricity, meal, time use, demand.

Recomposition of energy practices in the life course.
Context of sustainable neighborhoods analysis.

Taoufik SOUAMI (French Institute of Urbanism ; École des Ponts ParisTech/LATTS)

In this article, we discuss the energy transition at the level of local social groups (individuals, households, neighborhood networks …). Our hypothesis is that the change also operates a set of micro-transitions. These micro-transitions play in individuals both consumers inhabitants, local users are members of social groups close … The article is based on a fine for this investigation in two ecovillages in France. The analysis confirms the lack of a physical or sociological determinism explaining energy behavior, whether sober or not. Materials that are produced by reducing the action of the people to ensure their correct operation transformations of energy footprints, fail to achieve objectives. The standard profiles proposed to explain behavior by socio-economic conditions of the people are not enlightening.
A procedural reading seems more relevant and operational. It reveals that the practices of individuals and neighborhood groups are blended in different contexts, technical and spatial configurations but also life course, that is to say, past experiences and life plans of individuals and households. Recent past in an apartment « sieve » is going to bring attention to the insulation. An old family practice saving electricity can be reset during the installation needs housing. Thus viewed, we can better examine what changes the practices and guide their transformations. In this configuration analysis, we can better understand how the transformation trajectories fit or not in an energy transition.
Two aspects still appear somewhat considered significant. The people take initiatives that go beyond the local supply, to find their organization of the « economy » of energy in their living. Social groups emerge to provide common benchmarks in the restructuring practice. Micro-transitions by the composition of practices would be constructed as well as by individual initiatives overflowing institutional offer, as territorialized social groups.

KEY WORDS: practice, consumption, life course transitions, eco-neighborhoods.

A Social Capital Basis for Reducing Household Energy Consumption.

Thomas MACIAS (University of Vermont)

The primary objective of my research is, through the use of a regional mail survey, to capture the social context of energy conservation. Specifically, my work on this project is motivated by two central questions. First, how do people’s social connections to others, at home and in their local community affect their disposition towards energy conservation? And second, across a variety of network and socioeconomic contexts, what specific practices in the household and in transportation are people most likely to adhere to which would contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
Initial results are promising: I attained a 43 percent response rate from the 600 questionnaires mailed out in February 2014. A preliminary analysis shows that people in Chittenden County, Vermont are clearly concerned about issues of sustainability and positive attitudes towards this theme correlate with education, liberal political views and trust in government. Regarding one of our key measures of social capital – participation in « online neighborhood forums » – there were strong positive correlations with sustainable practices such as recycling, purchasing local food when available and, interestingly, taking shorter showers (water conservation). Regular face-to-face interaction with friends was associated with support for climate change policy and the consumption of locally produced food; and attendance at public meetings correlated with a willingness to drive less.
In sum, there appear to be significant correlations in the survey between measures of place-based social networks and measures of environmental concern and sustainable practices. Policies which foster social interactions at the community level through online forums, neighborhood organizations or local opportunities to volunteer may prove in the long run to be at least as important to addressing environmental crisis as social marketing aimed at promoting household efficiency improvements.

KEY WORDS: energy consumption, environmental concern, social capital, survey research, sustainable practices.

Socio-anthropological view of the resistance of Cameroonian populations in the adoption of so-called alternative energies.

Edmond VII MBALLA ELANGA (University of Douala)

Energy security and environmental protection are of concern to the government of Cameroon. To this end, the government has launched programs to improve and increase the supply of energy by exploiting new sources and sustainable energy alternatives say this in order to protect the environment while continuing to provide people access to energy. However, some of these programs are not always welcomed by the people. This communication therefore initiates work to highlight the concerns of people in parts of Cameroon to adopt the so-called alternative energy: biomass produced by human and animal excreta.
The use of human or animal waste for the production of energy is a psychological barrier for many people in Cameroon. In fact, people believe that the energy generated by human or animal waste can contaminate food. For these people, this energy is far from being a clean, otherwise energy. These people believe that the promotion of so-called alternative energy is likely to deconstruct their lifestyles. Fire wood for example, plays a central role in people’s lives; it is therefore not only used to cook food. It carries in fact a set of practices and ways of living. In the forest zone of southern Cameroon large, the use of wood as an energy source is an ancient practice: « We have always used wood as an energy source, wood is abundant in our forests. We are asked to adopt the consumption patterns of energy that will continue to enrich the men of the city, « said a villager Nkol-Nsoh. For many interviewees, the smoke is a cooking ingredient. Puts a fire made of wood does not have the same flavor that puts fire is gas or biomass.
This raises the issue of the adoption of new forms of energy. They are not adapted to the socio-cultural environment of the people. The adoption patterns called alternative energy is likely to disrupt the lifestyles of people and a set of social representations that they have in society, food, environment, etc. The promotion of alternative energies, when not tak ing into account aspects other than those related to energy, meeting the resistance of populations, the use of an energy source is to a certain extent, a fact total social.

KEY WORDS: socio-anthropological aegard, alternative energy, population strength, Cameroon.

The energy transition through the prism of “logics of action”: diversity and dynamics of appropriation.


Many technical devices, pioneer projects and experiments are nowadays positioned to contribute to an energy transition. They are defined as innovations, not only in their technical development, but also as incentives to « behaviour change ». However, social sciences show that this energy transition does not appear as unified and consistent as the public discourse claims (Shove, 2010 ; Zelem, 2010 ) because of the contradictory forces of energy policies and regimes (Geels, 2014 ). We will show that these ambiguities are due to the varying degrees and forms of appropriations of devices and to their limited ability of modifying practices and energy consumption that are embedded in systems of consumption.
At the junction of the sociology of innovation (Gaglio, 2011 ) and of the consumption and use (Desjeux, 1996 , Henning, 2005 ), we propose to develop the concept of « logic of action » to understand the diversity of the forms and degrees of appropriation. Social groups (households, employees, etc.) develop “logics of action” that link together different practices of everyday life, centred on a life project that is putted to the test of the economic, physical, social and symbolic constraints and resources and gradually embedded in routines and reflexive moments.
Our analysis is based on a multi-site and multi-sector ethnography: studying the dynamic pricing in the context of smart grids demonstrators in the residential sector, analysing the deployment of electric vehicles among pioneer households and observing the daily life into energy-efficient commercial and public buildings (offices and schools). The comparative analysis of this fieldwork has highlighted the relations and tensions between devices as they are designed and the social practices. In particular, we will show that the prism of “logics of action” diffracts the injunction to behaviour change into diverse ways of appropriating, engaging in pioneer projects and defining the user’s figure.

KEY WORDS: logics of action, dynamics of consumption, electric vehicles, dynamic pricing, energy-efficient commercial and public buildings.

Norms, emotions and social practices: conceptual and methodological considerations towards reduced household electricity consumption.

Béatrice BERTHO (University of Lausanne/ Faculty of Geosciences and Environment/Industrial ecology group)
Marlyne SAHAKIAN (University of Lausanne/ Faculty of Geosciences and Environment/Industrial ecology group)
Suren ERKMAN (University of Lausanne/ Faculty of Geosciences and Environment/Industrial ecology group)

This paper applies social practice theory to understanding how household electricity consumption might be decreased or rendered more efficient, as part of a research project underway in Geneva and Lausanne (Western Switzerland). We will discuss our theoretical framework and research design, highlighting the challenge of uncovering norms and values associated with everyday practices. Norms and values seem to be converging around the world, related to keeping clean (Shove 2003) or being comfortable indoors (Shove, Chappells et al. 2008; Sahakian 2014). Norms around indoor heating, for example, have changed dramatically in the past decades (by an increase of approximately ten degrees in France for example, see Dreyfus 1990). However, there is very little public discussion around what constitutes a healthy indoor climate – and how indoor climate might be made less dependent on artificial cooling and heating (with the Cool Biz campaign in Japan as a notable exception, see Shove, Pantzar et al. 2012). Wilk (2002) suggests that social rules can be brought out into public debate, resulting in a reaffirmation of the norm or its contestation (as was the case in Japan). While contesting social rules and values that are tacitly accepted will not necessarily lead to a ‘breaking down’ of the elements that hold together a practice (Shove 2012: 109), the possibility of further theorizing this aspect of social practices may be valuable to researchers and policy-makers. Such an approach has proven relevant in relation to select examples in food and beverage consumption (Sahakian and Wilhite 2014). In this paper, we discuss the importance of norms and values in both theory and practice then make some suggestions on how to uncover norms through empirical research. Here, we raise the limits of certain research methods, which validate the value-action gap or attitude-behaviour gap, whereby ‘consumers’ may express certain pro-environmental beliefs or attitudes, which do not always translate into actual actions and practices (Blake 1999, Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; Shove 2010), as attitudes and perceptions are only proxies for actual behaviour (Barr and Prillwitz in Fahy and Rau 2013). A Dutch study points to the importance of the practice approach in studying actions, rather than beliefs of attitudes, as much of household electricity consumption is tied to everyday life and related practices (Jensen 2008). We suggest ethnographic methods, based on in-depth interviews and observations, and an understanding of electricity consumption as tied up with everyday practices – particularly overlapping practices. The challenge of distinguishing implicit from explicit norms and values, however, remains an open issue, which we hope to further discuss.

KEY WORDS: social practice theory, households, Switzerland, electricity, norms, values.

Co-housing: a change of roles?

Lidewij TUMMERS (Faculty of Architecture and the Build Environment)

Co-housing is an emerging trend in Europe, raising interest as innovator of housing and sustainable environmental technology. Co-housing residents are receptive to innovations in renewable energies and apply ecological materials as well as waste- and water recycling together with alternative forms of management. Through co-housing practices residents move from being ‘consumer’ to ‘(co-) producers’, of housing, care, energy, services and so on. Nevertheless, the value and contribution of co-housing initiatives to housing provision and sustainable urban development, both quantitative and qualitatively, have hardly been assessed.
The second shift in roles that potentially takes place in co-housing projects is the breaking with gender stereotypes. Some studies found that this is one reason why there is large interest in co-housing amongst women. Other studies point at the alleviation of domestic work. However, in how far this leads to a fundamental improvement of equality has not been established.
This contribution relates the ecological orientations of co-housing initiatives to research on the emancipatory dynamic of co-housing. The paper explores how this relation is operational directly, for example in the design, management and maintenance of project technology such as water purification and solar panels. The paper also looks at indirect relations such as energy calculation models that depart from standard patterns of use and distribution of rooms, to which the co-housing cluster may not fit. For example, the orientation on complex installations for heating and ventilation systems, such as the passive house model, sustainable technology will be criticized for ignoring aspects of culture and use, including gender stereotyping.
The chapter is based on recent research on co-housing in EU member states as well as field studies in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

KEY WORDS: self-managed co-housing, renewable energies, energy transition, Fair Share City.