Socio-Cultural Aspects of Energy Consumption Behavior

Studies indicate that although people are often aware of the benefits of using energy more efficiently, a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors often prevent them from doing so. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), even when high efficiency technologies have been installed, 30 percent or more of the energy savings that could potentially be realized through such technologies is lost due to behavioral patterns of energy use. As Schipper and Meyers put it, “people, not machines, make the decisions that affect energy use. Insight into the human dimension of energy use is key to better understanding future energy trends and how to act effectively to manage them.”

This article discusses the social and cultural aspects of energy consumption behavior in Arabian Gulf countries. Patterns of energy use behavior can be attributed to many factors including; general economic conditions, energy prices, available technology, attitudes and behavior towards energy use. Current policies of subsidizing health services, education, housing and energy prices by governments of Arabian Gulf countries, as part of the welfare society, are preventing the improvement of energy consumption behaviors. Without real incentive of money saving, the public will not be a positive agent in reducing energy consumption. For example, fences of villas are kept lit all night, high level of illumination of indoor spaces and high electricity consuming lighting fixtures. Recent decisions to reduce its heavily subsidized energy prices by increasing gasoline prices is a first step in the right direction but the process will almost surely take years and vary significantly from one country to the next. Also, being tax free countries, no effective incentive, such as tax cuts or returns, is available to improve people’s energy consumption behavior.

Privacy requirements in the cultures of the Gulf region pose another challenge to behavioral patterns of energy consumption. Most windows are not used as sources of natural lighting because they increase visibility of occupants inside houses. They have to be covered all the time by heavy curtains to obstruct visibility. Balconies are rarely used as sources of natural lighting of family gatherings. The introduction of the villa prototype for living during the second half of the 20th century, replacing the traditional courtyard houses did not match the social and cultural changes of the inhabitants. Many owners require the return of the courtyard inside villas as a cultural solution that provides lighting, ventilation and privacy for family interaction. The types of multi-layered clothes and traditional costumes worn by men and women require more extensive use of A/C in private and public buildings. For example, the interiors of shopping centers, office buildings and educational facilities in summer are extensively air-conditioned. Lack of control of A/C and windows in individual rooms prevents adaptation of room conditions to personal needs. Behavioral analysis of energy use helps understanding the economic, social, and cultural framework influencing energy decision-making.

These factors are behind energy consumption, conservation, and investment. Understanding the extent that behavior may change, and how it influences future energy consumption patterns is very critical as concern over environmental sustainability is growing. It will also help public agencies design and implement more effective energy-saving policies and programs.


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