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How green tech is driving alternatives to energy consumerism

Image credit: Slavun/Dreamstime

A generation of ‘prosumers’ are behind the grassroots renewables revolution that is seeing increasing numbers of homes producing their own energy as well as consuming it.

For decades, consumerism has been the ‘order of the day’. In the early part of the 20th century, the mass production of the Industrial Revolution turned to overproduction. Supply was greater than demand as consumers couldn’t afford or didn’t need more goods. Planned obsolescence and advertising were deployed to encourage consumption and boost faltering economies. From there on, consumerism was born – the belief that we could find fulfilment and happiness in the increasingly superior goods and services we had come to depend on. For a time, consumerism was seen as good. It was wildly popular.

It’s only in the last few decades that we’ve truly recognised the toll this has taken on the planet. Today, many of the environmental challenges we face are driven by overconsumption and waste. Going forward, the UN has declared that responsible consumption should become our default approach. Does that mean we need to say goodbye to the luxuries we’ve come to enjoy? Can we enjoy all the benefits of product innovation and abundance with none of the costs? And, most importantly, are consumerism and responsible consumption irreconcilable? 

At Schneider Electric, we believe responsible consumption isn’t about consuming less – it’s about consuming better. Many household FMCG brands, including the likes of P&G and Unilever, have proved that you can continue to be innovative and satisfy customer needs while enabling sustainable consumption patterns. There’s a strong public desire to be more responsible, and consumers are starting to take action. It’s up to the businesses now to enable this consumer goodwill and give the public the right tools to make it work.

While there’s a lot of talk about issues such as food, water, plastic waste and the need for circularity when recycling products like furniture and consumer electronics etc, responsible energy consumption in the home is an issue that still needs to be addressed. This is especially concerning as households are quickly becoming one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide due to the dual forces of rising energy consumption and energy waste.

The perennial issue with energy consumption, however, is that it’s invisible until measured. Many of us don’t know how much energy we use until we get our monthly utility bill. Most of us still don’t have an idea of what our fridges, boilers and cookers cost us in terms of energy, and what environmental damage comes from our reliance on fossil fuels to keep up with domestic energy needs. 

Fortunately, with the development of certain digital tools, we can now make the invisible, visible. A smart home energy system can give occupants and owners a powerful overview of their energy consumption. IoT-connected sensors can record and report everything from total emissions produced by a house to how much power is needed by a particular room. We can be alerted on energy wastage, for instance when a room is being heated and lit while unoccupied. Armed with this insight, consumers can cut the waste and become more responsible in their energy without sacrificing their own comfort.

As we become more prosperous and more aware of the impacts of unfettered consumerism, we’re more likely to pursue a circular economy model where waste is eliminated, and the constant recycling of resources is encouraged. This has become extremely important in the energy sector and is a major driving force in the transition to cleaner, more sustainable forms of renewable energy, including clean electricity.

A growing number of people, driven by the desire to be more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient, have become ‘prosumers’, producing and consuming their own energy using local renewable sources such as rooftop solar panels. This grassroots renewables revolution will be key in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-generated power on the grid. By 2050, for example, 264 million European energy prosumers are expected to be generating 45 per cent of the European Union’s electricity needs [PDF].

Prosumerism will be the key in redefining responsible consumption – helping us to generate the electricity we need in a way that’s clean and sustainable. However, domestic renewable energy sources have an Achilles’ heel – their intermittency. Fortunately, energy storage technology such as a domestic battery can help store the excess power generated for a later use when the Sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing. In this way, active energy consumers can become effective and sustainably minded prosumers.

Concepts from the world of organic food consumption, such as the reduction of plastics, can be applied to our relationship with the planet and the way we manage our overall energy needs. As our homes get increasingly electrified, with more appliances and electric vehicles accelerating this change, and prosumers generating their own electricity, we’ll be able to control not just how much energy we generate, spend and when; but also how clean the energy is.

Smart-home energy-management solutions are the only way to achieve this goal of ‘clean living’ at large. It will allow us to consume energy smarter and better, while keeping tabs on where consumption can be further decreased, thus proving that consumerism and responsible consumption can be the two equal parts of the same equation. This is how we can make the load lighter on our environment, our wallets, and our own consciences.

Jai Thampi is SVP, strategy & innovation, with the Home and Distribution Division at Schneider Electric.

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