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Energy metre

Improving our energy use

Improving the sustainability of energy use by applying demand-side measures involves two distinct approaches:

  1. Technological
  2. Social

The technological approach involves installing improved energy conversion (or distribution) technologies that require less input energy to achieve a given level of useful energy output or energy service.

The social approach involves re-arranging our lifestyles, individually and collectively, in minor or perhaps major ways, in order to ensure that the energy required to perform a given service is reduced in comparison with other ways of supplying that service.

For example, you may live in a densely populated town with shops, offices, schools and other amenities scattered evenly around. You may be able to do your shopping, or go to work or university, without using a car, simply by walking relatively short distances. Or you may find it convenient to catch a bus, as bus services are usually more frequent and efficient in higher-density settlements.

On the other hand, you may live in a town with a similar population, but one that has been designed (as have many new towns) to have a low population density (i.e. fewer residents per area land), with shops and offices concentrated in the town centre. In this case, you may well use a car for many of your local journeys, consuming fossil fuels and generating emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

In both towns, the residents receive exactly the same levels of service: shopping, working, schooling, etc. But in the high-density town the residents can use energy services more sustainably than in the low-density town – all other things being equal.

In government energy statistics, energy demand is usually broken down into four main sectors:

  1. The domestic sector
  2. The commercial and institutional sector (often termed the services sector)
  3. The industrial Sector
  4. The transport Sector

In the full version of this article in the PDF below, the demand-side measures that are or can be applied to improve the sustainability of our energy use are described. Please read the article and then:

Think about: What is more important in the search for energy sustainability – is it technology or social attitudes? Should sustainable energy be achieved through renewable energy or through increased energy efficiency? Give us your views.

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This article is from the free online course:

Sustainability, Society and You

The University of Nottingham