Influencing Demand

The DEMAND centre confronts basic questions about how evolving patterns of energy demand could and should be steered, and by whom. We seek to inform future-oriented debate and decisions about which features of present energy and mobility systems might be abandoned, adapted, augmented and managed to radically reduce CO2 emissions over the next forty years. Our research focuses on the systems and infrastructures on which end use practices depend. In taking this approach we move into new territory, redefining the problem of steering energy demand and the range of possible solutions. These include modifying ‘invisible’ energy policies which influence demand, but which are not designed with this in mind. DEMAND is working with organisations like Transport for London, the British Council for Office, the NHS and the Greater London Authority to put these ideas into policy and practice (experiences of working with DEMAND can be found here).

Steering Demand

It is widely accepted that reducing energy demand is critical in achieving emissions targets, energy security, and energy affordability. Despite this importance, the carbon reduction challenge in both the energy and transportation sector has been largely simplified to a shift of fuel mix or efficiency, without much consideration given to the need for a radical reduction in demand – and a correspondingly radical reconfiguration of the practices that call for energy at home, at work or in moving around.

To date, most demand-related policy focuses on improving technological efficiency and/or encouraging people to adopt lower carbon technologies, rather than on the practices that shape energy use. As well as failing to engage with the fundamental dynamics of energy demand, this agenda helps maintain present ways of life and obscures big policy opportunities. Strategies to increase efficiency and to encourage people to use efficient technologies play out in a social world that is constantly on the move: future ways of life are unlikely to be the same as they are today.

For the time being, policy relevant social science tends to be which is consistent with a dominant paradigm organized around theories of individual attitude, behaviour and choice (known as the ABC). This locates both the problem and the response as a matter of consumer behavior and downplays the extent to which the state and other institutions sustain unsustainable conventions and ways of life and have a hand in structuring present and future options and possibilities.

Papers and presentations that develop and apply these ideas include:

Shove, E. (2014) Putting Practice into Policy: Reconfiguring Questions of Consumption and Climate Change. Contemporary Social Science, 9(4), 415-429. DOI: 1080/21582041.2012.692484.Written in the form of a dialogue between a policy maker and a social scientist, this article discusses the limits of focusing on efficiency and behavior and shows what more policy can do.

Shove, E. and Spurling, N. (2014) Developing DECC’s Evidence Base: A commentary from the DEMAND Centre. This document explains what new insights DEMAND’s approach offers and is written in response to the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s evidence strategy.

Walker, G. (2014) Resilience of electricity infrastructure. Submission to House of Lords inquiry, September 2014.


Steering demand is not an easy task, calling for constant modulation to maintain a steady course. Policy initiatives can have unintended consequences, and anticipated consequences that arise as a result of unexpected processes. Notions of control, prediction and impact, along with underpinning principles of cause and effect, are illusory. What is needed for steering are concepts that can recognize the inevitability and importance of policy and governance interventions in practice without assuming that such processes are either linear or straightforward.

Shove, E. (2017) Matters of practice. In Hui, A. Schatzki, T. and Shove, E (eds.) The Nexus of Practices: Connections, constellations, practitioners. London: Routledge PDF  This chapter considers the different roles things play within and in relation to the enactment of  social practices. I argue that things can feature as resources that are used up in practice, as devices with which practitioners interact directly or as infrastructures that have a vital role, but in the background. The chapter offers a way of thinking about these material relations and  shows how seemingly ‘local’ or small scale practices and  seemingly ‘large’ social and economic systems constitute each other. In taking this approach, it provides new insight into how the demand for energy (as a resource) is constituted within society.

Watson, M. (2017) Placing power in practice theory. In Hui, A. Schatzki, T. and Shove, E (eds.) The Nexus of Practices: Connections, constellations, practitioners. London: Routledge PDF.  Demand, as we know, arises from the patterns of human doing that we term practices. Steering demand is therefore about some actor shaping the conduct of another. That is, steering demand is about power. However, practice theory is generally seen as having trouble engaging power as a phenomenon. This chapter takes steps towards understanding how to locate power in relation to practices, and within practice theory.

Reardon, L., Marsden, G., and Shove, E., (2016) The dynamics of demand: thinking about steering. These discussion papers framed two days of presentations on processes and examples of change and steering at the DEMAND conference, April 2016.

Shove, E. (2016) Steering by accident: Unintended governance strategies in action. Paper prepared for Demand Centre Conference, Lancaster, 13-15 April 2016. In 2005, the Japanese government introduced “Cool Biz” as part of a wider effort to reduce CO2-emissions. Following this one bit of climate change policy from its formulation within government through to its consequences for the tiny details of daily life provides some insight into processes involved in deliberately steering energy demand.

Reardon, L. and Marsden, G. (2016) Steering demand – a wicked problem in the making: insights from UK transport policy”. Paper prepared for DEMAND Centre Conference, Lancaster, 13-15 April 2016. This paper asks what role the state has in steering demand for mobility and why, despite its obvious relevance to policy imperatives such as climate change and congestion, the state seems to have an at best uneasy and inconsistent attachment to notions of demand and demand management.

Marsden, G. (2016) Here’s why adaptability is the key to coping with transport disasters, The Conversation. Floods caused by Storm Desmond left more than 2,500 homes without power, washed away bridges, closed schools and hospitals and caused serious damage to homes and businesses across swathes of northern England and Scotland. This article explains why we should see these events as opportunities to try out new ways of doing things and getting to places.

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Invisible Energy Policies

What usually counts as energy policy covers a very small area of the terrain relating to the evolution of demand. Energy demand is not shaped by energy policy alone. If we accept that energy demand is an outcome of social practices, it follows that many areas of policy have a bearing on what people do, and on the energy demands that arise as a result. By implication, purposeful steering and intervention involves far more than action in the domains of energy and mobility alone.

What energy is used for, or how energy needs are made, is in part a reflection of how governments shape objectives, investments and ways of providing and working across many different policy domains. It follows that many of the drivers of energy demand are under the influence of government departments other than the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly DECC).

For example, decisions on road building, public transport and spatial planning will affect the demand for energy from transport, while planning and building codes will affect demand from residential buildings. Less obvious, but just as important, policies on higher education, health and welfare reflect and reproduce priorities that matter for demand. Demand reduction depends on understanding the unintended consequences that ‘non energy policies’ have on what people do, and hence on energy demand.

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. (2106). Welfare policy, practice and energy demand (PDF), 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 [.pdf] from a one-day conference at the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy


Royston, S. (2016). Invisible energy policy in higher education (.pdf), 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.

soundcloud-iconRoyston, S. (2019)  Intro to Invisible Energy Policy –  In search of ‘Good’ Energy Policy. Sarah Royston’s full seminar audio and presenter interview
for the ‘In Search of ‘Good’ Energy Policy’ seminar series at the University of Cambridge.

More information about the Invisible Energy Policies theme can be found here.

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Adapting Social Practices

Demand reduction depends on understanding how end-uses of energy are changing and how they can be modified and steered. Social practices vary and change, more or less radically, as is obvious when looking back over time. A focus on energy efficiency will do little to address the wider socio-technical system which holds energy demanding practices in place. An effective intervention in social processes modifies shared conventions, redefines normality, and modifies cues and codes of everyday life. In thinking about what this involves a first step is to recognize that technologies, standards and infrastructures of supply do not simply meet existing needs: they shape future practices and the demands that follow. By implication infrastructures, appliances and practices can be reconfigured in ways that call for very much less consumption.

Beillan, V. and Douzou, S. (2017) ‘Being at home today: Inhabitance practices and the transformation and blurring of French domestic spaces’, In Demanding Energy: Space, Time and Change (eds Hui, A., Day, R. and Walker, G.). Cham: Palgrave. Domestic spaces have been caught up in some of the most significant societal transformations observed in France. Exploring households’ inhabitance practices, the authors underline the importance of two movements which interweave a renewed multi-functionality in flexible domestic spaces, and the individuation of activities within these spaces. This blurring of boundaries implies that the tracking of dynamics of domestic energy use will require renewed units of analysis that canbetter capture the daily continuum of change, as well as any emergent patterns.

De Decker, K (October 2017) Where Infrastructures and Appliances Meet  In this article, Kris de Decker discusses the blurred boundaries between universal provision and individual consumption, and reflects on how the struggle to define and allocate the roles and responsibilities between state and market is crucial for the evolution of energy demand.

Shove, E. (2015). Linking Low Carbon Policy and Social Practice. In: Strengers, Y. and Maller, C. (eds.) Social Practices, Intervention and Sustainability: Beyond Behaviour Change. Routledge. This chapter shows that, climate change policy is embroiled in the persistence and transformation of what people do.  What assumptions about normal ways of life are already embedded in current methods of modelling and policy making, and how do these approaches shape the future?

Spurling, N. (2015). Interventions in practices: Sustainable mobility policies in England. In: Strengers, Y. and Maller, C. (eds.) Social Practices, Intervention and Sustainability: Beyond Behaviour Change. Routledge.

Browne, A. L., Medd, W., Anderson, B. & Pullinger, M. (2014) ‘Methods as intervention: Intervening in practice through quantitative and mixed methodologies‘, In: Strengers, Y. and Maller, C. (eds.) Social Practices, Intervention and Sustainability: Beyond Behaviour Change. Routledge. This chapter reflects on how expanding the range of methods used to actualise theories of practice can be a form of interference and intervention. By using new methods to disturb the relatively unexamined way that ‘consumers’ and their resource consumption is represented in policy worlds, research methods not only disturb what is ‘known’, but also reveal new political realities and possibilities.

We have applied these ideas to specific topics to do with efficiency or sustainable design.

Shove, E. (2015) Electricity interconnection and storage. Submission to the Infrastructure Commission. The UK Infrastructure Commission is seeking evidence on how changes to existing market frameworks, increased interconnection and new technologies in demand-side management and energy storage can better balance supply and demand. This is our brief response.

Diamond, R. and Shove, E. (2015) Defining efficiency: what is equivalent service and why does it matter? [PDF] DEMAND blog.  “Energy efficiency” is commonly defined as “using less energy to provide the same service”. This short article asks how  the “same” service or “given level of amenity” defined, who determines equivalence, and why does equivalence matter for energy demand reduction.

Marsden, G. (2013) New runways to support leisure even as transport at home is cut The Conversation. A discussion of seemingly contradictory policy approaches to different forms of transport demand.

Kuijer, L. and Bakker, C. (2015). Of Chalk and Cheese: Behaviour Change and Practice Theory in Sustainable Design. International Journal of Sustainable Engineering, 8(3), 219-230. DOI: 10.1080/19397038.2015.1011729. Design for sustainable behaviour (DfSB) is becoming increasingly influential in the areas of design research and practice. With its success, however, concerns are also rising about its limitations. This paper bundles these concerns and illustrates how DfSB approaches tend to focus on incremental savings that easily disappear in larger trends, how it risks not achieving the intended behaviour change, how its literature contains a strong rhetoric of right and wrong behaviours and how opportunities for larger scales of change tend to be missed.

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