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Temperature Rising: Capturing the long-term effects of a living lab initiative to change domestic heating practices heating
Domestic heating requirements comprise the most significant proportion of domestic energy use across the EU. While efforts to increase the share of renewable energy in the supply chain are ongoing, the majority of heating systems and infrastructure are still primarily served by conventional fossil fuel based systems, with obvious consequences for emissions. Given the political sensitivity surrounding the application of tradition command or control based policy measures, to date, policy strategies to reduce heating related energy demand in the domestic sphere have largely focused on technical efficiency improvements with the prospect of monetary savings typically highlighted as an incentive for behavioural change. While such efforts have obvious living standard benefits, efficiency improvements do not directly translate into real reductions due to various rebound effects whereby increasing building or heating system efficiency often simply result in larger areas being heated to “comfort” temperatures. Thus, there is a growing recognition of the requirement for non-market based change initiatives that are based on social-scientific energy research and that serve to deliver real reductions in energy demand. Adopting a practice theoretical perspective, this paper describes a living lab approach undertaken by the European Network for Research Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy (ENERGISE) where households were asked to voluntarily reduce their domestic heating demand by changing their existing heating practices. Using a combination of methods which included both personal deliberative interactions and prompts, households were challenged to reduce their indoor temperatures levels to 18 degrees Celsius. While initial results reveal changes in heating practices during the Living Lab period, the permanency of such successes in the longer term and their applicability to other energy-related practices is less certain. In this study, households were monitored before, during and crucially for a number of months after the challenge, to investigate if households who did manage to change their domestic practices in the short term, maintained those actions in the longer term.