Momentum on Sustainable Energy Transition at Risk as Consumer Fatigue Sets In – EY Research

  • 78% Irish consumers doing as much as they can, within means, to be sustainable
  • 69% of Irish consumers can’t absorb a 10% bill increase
  • Energy companies and suppliers can seize the opportunity to close the gap between consumer interest and action on sustainability.
Momentum on Sustainable Energy Transition at Risk as Consumer Fatigue Sets In – EY Research
Sean Casey, EY Energy & Infrastructure Consulting Leader

As the sustainable energy transition enters a crucial new phase, momentum is at risk of slipping amongst Irish consumers. While households say they are more interested than ever in sustainability and the potential of a clean energy future, only three in ten (30%) feel they can do more at this time to be more sustainable. With 70% of the expected benefits of the energy transition to be driven by changes in consumer consumption, and at a time when energy prices are beginning to decline, reengaging households is key.

That’s according to the latest EY ‘Energy transition consumer insights’ report, which surveyed 23,000 residential energy consumers across 21 countries, including 1,042 in Ireland, and which also highlights the key role the energy providers can play in helping to close the gap between interest and action amongst consumers on energy sustainability.

In Ireland, 78% of consumers say they are doing as much as they can to be sustainable at this time. When it comes to shifting to cleaner sources of energy, the majority of Irish households say energy providers (57%) and Government (57%) should take the leading role, with just over one in five (21%) believing individual consumers should be leading. The global energy crisis and cost of living challenges continue to impact Irish households, with 69% of Irish consumers saying they can’t absorb a bill increase of 10%.

The research also identifies a generation gap when it comes to the sustainability premium of energy amongst Irish consumers – with Gen Z (32%) and Millennials (20%) willing to pay a premium for sustainable energy solutions, significantly ahead of Gen X (14%) and Boomers (15%).

Sean Casey, EY Energy & Infrastructure Consulting Leader says:

“After a number of years of spiking energy prices due to the conflict in Ukraine, combined with cost-of-living challenges facing many, it’s not surprising that Irish households feel that they are not in a position to do more on energy sustainability. Our research finds that the majority of Irish consumers say that they’ve already done everything they can, with only three in ten feeling they can do more to be more sustainable.

“This presents a significant challenge as we move into the next critical phase of meeting our ambitious but essential climate change commitments. While efforts on the supply side from producers are gaining momentum, with record renewable energy generation on the grid, we need an even more fundamental shift in how we engage and encourage sustainable energy consumption behaviours, as 70% of the outcome of the energy transition depends on people changing their behaviour, most notably how we power our homes and how we get around.

“With energy prices beginning to decline from the spikes of late 2022 and early 2023, there is now a window of opportunity in terms of promoting and incentivising sustainable energy behaviours at a household level. Energy consumers need a broad range of supports to make personal energy choices easier and more affordable. These supports are in such areas as renewable energy solutions for the home, electric vehicles and simply how consumers use energy every day. Closing the gap between their interest and action will depend on energy providers, government, and the broader energy ecosystem working together to pull every lever available.”

The Action-Reaction Paradox

The EY research also delved into consumer behaviours when it came to energy usage, finding that households are often undermining their own positive sustainability actions – in many cases without being aware of it. This behaviour is not uncommon and referred to by researchers as the ‘action-reaction paradox’.

More than seven in ten (72%) Irish consumers report they offset their positive energy actions with negative actions and behaviours. These can include replacing an appliance/device with a new one and continuing to also use the old one (21%), the increased use of a new appliance/device because it costs less to operate than the one it replaced (28%) or taking an action or making a purchase that helped reduce energy bills and using the savings to buy something else (31%).

Sean Casey says, “Our research finds that even when Irish households take action to increase their energy sustainability, they can sometimes offset the gains – frequently unknowingly – by undertaking another energy intensive action. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the consumption of a good or service often increases as prices fall – meaning that the rapid gains in terms of sustainable energy entering the grid in the past decade will be outweighed by increased energy demand overall. It’s imperative therefore that we redouble efforts to educate and support households to reduce energy use where possible. This can include switching to renewable energy – which is increasingly available without a premium – or to switch to dynamic plans that incentivise usage outside of peak periods of demand.”

Opportunity for Energy Providers

While 81% say that it’s the energy provider’s responsibility to be sustainable and offer sustainability options to consumers, usefully providers are Irish consumers’ most trusted source of guidance on energy sustainability and purchasing energy products and services (44%). This gives these companies a significant opportunity to play an increasing role in powering the next stage of the energy transition.

Kyle Kirkpatrick, EY Ireland Customer Strategy and Transformation Lead says: “Our research tells us there is a real opportunity for energy providers to act as trusted advisors to householders – making change easier, faster, broader and deeper. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with new technologies being part of their energy experience – including the use of AI and Generative AI to help provide personalised advice and information about new energy solutions, and these technologies can play an increasingly important role in enabling consumers. One thing is clear: a collaborative, holistic approach to the energy transition, with consumers at the core, is how we will accelerate progress toward a fairer, greener, and better energy system that delivers more value for everyone.”

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