Invisible Energy Policy

Timeline: October 2016 – May 2019

Our team includes: Jan Selby, Elizabeth Shove, Sarah Royston

Some of our key questions include:

  • How do non-energy policies affect energy demand in the UK public sector?
  • How are matters of energy demand integrated into non-energy policymaking and planning?
  • Can non-energy policies be used to help reduce demand?

And these are some of the ideas we are engaging with:

Energy demand is deeply affected by ‘non-energy’ policies and priorities, such as those relating to consumer choice, health and safety, growth, austerity, security, or decentralisation.

For example:

  • The recent shift in Higher Education funding in England and Wales (with reduced state grants and increased tuition fees), combined with the end to student number quotas, has made student experience a top priority for universities, leading them to increase their investment in new facilities and energy-intensive showcase services such as 24 hour libraries.
  • Austerity has led many government departments and public services to decrease the size of their estates, or to sub-contract functions to private sector-providers, with either real or apparent impacts on energy use and carbon emissions.
  • Demand for transport is affected by policies on healthcare, including the siting of services, specialisation and decentralisation.

We are also interested in how matters that affect energy demand are embedded within or excluded from non-energy policymaking. Energy managers in institutions are typically responsible for energy provision as well as energy reduction, however they have little or no influence over the energy demand consequences on non-energy policies.

Non-energy policies can have a positive or a negative impact on energy demand but either way, they are often overlooked and unseen. This is why we call them ‘invisible energy policies’.

This project takes on the challenge of identifying invisible energy policies in the UK public sector, focusing on the specific cases of Higher Education and healthcare. These sectors are some of the largest non-commercial consumers of energy and as such provide revealing sites in which to develop approaches for tracing the energy and mobility implications of high level shifts in policy agendas over the past 30 years.

This project will work with local institutions (e.g. hospitals, universities) in each sector to explore the connections between energy-use and/or mobility demand and national level policies and regulations. The formation of these invisible energy policies will be examined through documentary analysis, literature review, and interviews with key informants in government departments and related policymaking, regulatory and operational institutions.

For more detailed information about how the project fits into the Demand Research Programme you can read the 13-page DEMAND research summary.


Selby, J., Royston S., Shove, E., Wadud, Z. (2016) Invisible Energy Policy: Introducing our Research. A two page outline of the ‘Invisible Energy Policy’ project.

Butler, C. Parkhill, K. and Bickerstaff, K. (2016). Welfare policy, practice and energy demand , paper prepared for DEMAND Centre Conference, Lancaster, 13-15 April 2016. This paper sets out a conceptual orientation and some preliminary analysis of UK welfare and employment policy in terms of it being an area of ‘invisible energy policy’.

Cox, E., Royston, S. and Selby, J. (2016) Impacts of non-energy policy on energy systems , DEMAND Centre researchers at the University of Sussex (Jan Selby and Sarah Royston) were commissioned by UKERC to write a scoping paper on “Impacts of non-energy policy on energy systems”; the report was presented at the UKERC Research Fund Workshop in October 2016 and was published in November 2016.

Selby, J. Royston, S., Shove, E. (2017) Report from a one-day conference at the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Strengers, Y. (2014) Fly or die: air travel and the internationalisation of academic careers.

Royston, S. (2016). Invisible energy policy in higher education, paper prepared for DEMAND Centre Conference, Lancaster, 13-15 April 2016. Non-energy policies can have major implications for energy demand. This paper presents early findings from the first fieldwork phase on higher education, one of the UK’s largest non-commercial consumers of energy.

Royston, S. (2019) Digitalisation, energy and healthcare. A working paper.

Royston, S., Selby, J. and Shove, E. (2018) Invisible energy policies: A new agenda for energy demand reduction. Energy Policy, 123: 127-135.

Wadud, Z., Royston, S. and Selby, J. (2019) Modelling energy demand from higher education institutions: A case study of the UK. Applied Energy, 233(23): 816-826.


Back to top