I found myself asking this question today. Not in an existential sense (though spending last week in a sea kayak spotting seals has made it much harder to chain myself to the desk since.) I was at Lancaster University talking to academics about what all this energy is for. Why do we each use fifteen times the amount of energy than we did two hundred years ago?
Regular readers will know this isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question. My 2011 pamphlet for Green Alliance, Demanding Less, attempts to get to grip with the big questions about energy use, and think through their implications for government and business.
So I’m really pleased to be asked to advise a new academic Centre, based at Lancaster, and appropriately called DEMAND – Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand. The Centre has an enviable five years to get to grips with the question of what energy is used for and how this changes over time. Its work will range from the very theoretical, with sociological analysis of the cultures shaping energy use, through to the very practical – how can smart meters help reduce energy demand?
I’ll be working with DEMAND to help them engage with policymakers and the business community. This includes plans to set up a club of thinkers from outside the academic community who can contribute to the research and use it to shape their organisation’s strategy.
As I discussed the Lancaster team this morning, it’s surprisingly rare to think about what shapes energy demand. The debate rarely gets beyond where we should get energy from, or how we could use it more efficiently. This might make the new Centre’s job difficult. It’s not that the questions are unanswered, rather that they’re not being asked in the first place. But that’s what makes DEMAND’s work both fascinating and necessary. We’ll see how they get on.