Temperatures in the UK hit a record high of 40.3 degrees Celsius or 104.5 Fahrenheit this week, capping a brutal heatwave that scorched Europe and sent demand for electricity soaring.
It came amid a war in Ukraine that has turned the global energy market upside down.
The energy shortage prompted the European Union executive this week to ask member states to cut their gas consumption by 15 percent from now until next spring, as officials prepare for Russia to cut natural gas supplies in the coming months.
Here are some of the things countries could do to contain energy demand and some of the potential pitfalls:
Set thermostats, starting in government buildings
According to the International Energy Agency, an air conditioner could be turned up just one degree Celsius, or about two degrees Fahrenheit, to reduce electricity consumption by 10 percent per year.
Nick Eyre, a professor of energy and climate policy at the University of Oxford, said governments could set an example. The general public, he noted, may not respond well to politicians telling them how to live without making changes themselves.
Even a one degree lower thermostat control in winter for buildings in Europe could save up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas, which corresponds to Austria’s annual gas requirements.
Extreme heat around the world this week
A summer of hot misery. It’s been a brutal week in several parts of the world not built for extreme heat, as temperature spikes and wildfires hit Europe. Some US states broke heat records set during the Dust Bowl. Here’s a look at what happened:
Reduce public transportation costs
According to the IEA, around 330,000 barrels of oil consumption per day could be saved worldwide by incentivising public transport by making it cheaper and encouraging other mobility options such as walking or cycling
This number could increase if employers allow flexible working hours or more home office days at the same time.
Some countries in Europe are already doing this. Beginning in June and at least until August, Deutsche Bahn is offering unlimited public transport tickets for the equivalent of about $9 a month as part of plans to cushion the impact of inflation. Ireland and Italy are also reducing public transport fares for certain groups such as young adults, students and workers.
One caveat: it wouldn’t be particularly effective in rural areas that don’t have robust public transportation.
Reduce and obey speed limits
According to a report by the International Energy Agency, lowering the speed limit on motorways could theoretically significantly reduce the fuel consumption of cars and trucks. A number of countries and urban areas have already introduced speed limits to reduce congestion and pollution.
If highway speed limits were reduced by at least 10 kilometers per hour, or about 6 miles per hour, advanced economies could cut oil demand by at least 290,000 barrels of oil per day, the report said.
In practice, however, it can be difficult to implement a national speed limit and get enough citizens on board to achieve significant results. The United States attempted this in 1974 by imposing a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour for cars, buses and trucks after OPEC shut off the country’s oil supply, and estimated that the limit could save 200,000 barrels of gasoline per day. Speed limits have also been reduced in several European countries.
At the time, officials believed the limit would reduce gas mileage by 2.2 percent, but actual gas demand has remained relatively flat in subsequent years. Motorists largely flouted the law, and some states that defied the rule imposed only modest fines of $5 to $15 for people caught speeding.
Set up public relations campaigns properly
Well-designed public awareness campaigns can motivate people to take action to reduce their own energy consumption, but poorly designed campaigns that lack the right tone and message can backfire.
Some energy saving campaigns are more successful when they highlight how people’s actions can save money; others do better when they take an ecological approach or make moral appeals to good citizenship. In many cases, governments could use social media to tailor different messages to different audiences.
It is important to think not only of the message and its delivery, but also of the messenger. If citizens don’t perceive the government as a credible authority, they are less likely to believe the message, an IEA report says.
The best campaigns strike a balance between urgency and agency.
“You can’t just release information and expect people to change their behavior overnight,” said Brian Motherway, head of the Energy Efficiency Division at the International Energy Agency. If you employ behavioral scientists and communications experts and take the time to design a targeted campaign, he said, “you can really get it right.”
“You can find ways to engage with citizens in a way that really empowers them and motivates them to take action.”