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Energy waste: Can we reconcile consumerism with responsible consumption? by Schneider Electric

Jai Thampi

For decades, consumerism has been the ‘order of the day’. In the early part of the twentieth century, mass production of the industrial revolution turned to overproduction. Supply was bigger than demand as consumers could not afford or didn’t need more goods. Planned obsolescence and advertising were then 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 recognized the toll it has taken on the planet. Today, many of the environmental challenges we face are driven by over-consumption 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? 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 proven that you can continue to be innovative and satisfy customer needs while enabling sustainable consumption patterns. There is 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.

Energy: Invisible until measured

While there is a lot of talk about topics like 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 CO2 due to the dual forces of the 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’ll 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 consumption without sacrificing their own comfort.

Consumerism, meet Prosumerism

As we become more prosperous and more aware of the impacts of unfettered consumerism, we’re now 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’. Prosumers are people who produce and consume 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. 264 million European energy prosumers are expected to generate 45% of the European Union’s electricity needs by 2050.

Prosumerism will be the key in redefining responsible energy 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 that 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.

Energy-efficient living is ‘clean’ living

A concept coming from the world of organic food consumption, such as the reduction of plastics etc., 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 EVs 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 it 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 energy 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.

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