Energy efficiency vision 2050: How do societal changes shape energy efficiency and energy demand?
New societal trends are currently unfolding, such as digitalization, the sharing economy and changing consumer awareness. All of which might highly influence future energy demand and depending on their realization might enhance or counterbalance projected energy efficiency gains. This work is a first attempt to analyse quantitatively how these societal trends might interact with energy efficiency gains. An extensive consultation with European experts identified 14 societal trends that are likely to shape future energy demand. Based on these trends three energy demand scenarios were developed for 2050. The EU Reference Scenario (2016) serves as the baseline (BAU). A 'Removing Barriers Scenario' (S1) identifies the prospective decreases in energy demand based on (nearly) cost-effective potentials but excluding major impacts of such new societal trends. Through extensive review of existing studies as well as expert consultations the impacts of new societal trends on all sectors were evaluated in two additional scenarios taking explicitly these trends into account: In scenario 2 the techno-economic potentials are realized, but are counterbalanced by societal trends (e.g. cars might become more energy efficient, but the increased comfort of automation leads to an increase in the kilometres travelled and / or to larger vehicles). Scenario 3 assumes that the Energy Efficiency First Principle is widely established and guides individual and policy decision-making, thus shaping societal trends in a way that facilitates decreasing energy demand. A current study by IEA (2017), based on Wadud et al (2016), shows that by 2050, digitalization might double or decrease transport energy demand by roughly 40%. This gives a rough idea of the spectrum of possible developments. This paper aims to open up the discussion of how societal trends will shape future energy demand. It explicates that solely relying on unregulated energy efficiency gains to reduce energy demand underestimates the complexity of the interplay of energy demand with changing behaviour through societal trends, while they may also bring about large reduction potentials.