Styles of energy use:
Database about energy consumption of Austrian households.
Development and empirical validation

A lot of research in the field of energy consumption in recent years has been focused on technical parameters, such as efficient use of energy. The social and cultural frame of actions - in market research often described as lifestyles - gained less attention. However, linking concepts of lifestyles to patterns of energy use seems very promising and offers several promising benefits in order to be able to adequately respond to consumers, to effectively communicate knowledge and innovations, and to anticipate the energy behaviour of citizens.
The project "Styles of Energy Use" was started to fill this gap. A representative social survey of 1000 Austrian households was conducted in 2009 covering all sectors of private energy use (electricity, heating, mobility). The survey included items which allow to determine the energy demand in a technical way (number and quality of appliances, size and thermal quality of housing, etc.), but also behavioural aspects of energy demand were inquired. Beside socio-economic parameters, questions concerning values and aesthetic preferences were implemented to determine social milieus of experience ("Erlebnismilieus"). The statistical data analysis aimed at testing the relationship between patterns of energy use and lifestyles in order to develop and describe "styles of (Austrian) energy use" (SEU). The empirically validated SEUs provided fruitful insights into the energetically relevant behaviour of the Austrian population. These insights were discussed with high level energy and communication experts in order to discuss policy and communication recommendations.

Social milieus of experience ("Erlebnismilieus")
The concept of social milieus of experience was developed as a theoretical construct. Based on cultural studies in Germany in the early 1990s, Schulze (2005) defined three schemata: the Perfektionsschema (schema of perfection), the Trivialschema (schema of triviality), and the Spannungsschema (schema of excitement). The three schemata serve as a basis for the five social milieus of experience defined by Schulze (2005), which were validated and adapted for Austria by the Austrian Gallup Institute Karmasin (Karmasin Motivforschung, oD). The Austrian version of the "Erlebnismilieus" clusters four types of lifestyles (milieus): Niveau- (niveau), Harmonie- (harmony), Unterhaltungs- (entertainment) and Selbstverwirklichungsmilieu (self-fulfilment). The typologies are based on questions about leisure activities, values and preferences in media and music. The main characteristics of the four milieus are described in Table 2.
The Survey
The survey comprised of 109 questions which can be assigned to different topics as shown in table 1.

Table 1: Topics of the questionnaire's items

Data analysis
The statistical data analysis aimed at testing the relationship between patterns of energy use and lifestyles in order to finally develop and describe "styles of (Austrian) energy use" (SEU), using variance analyses of SPSS.
The comparison between the four Austrian social milieus of experience (Selbstverwirklichungsmilieu (SM), Harmoniemilieu (HM), Niveaumilieu (NM), Unterhaltungsmilieu (UM)) mainly built on energy demands per capita in kWh. These quantitative data on energy demand were generated by combining the answers to the questionnaire with average numbers of energy demand from literature.

The table below shows the main characteristics of each milieu in regard to values, socio-economics and energy use.

Table 2: Main characteristics of Erlebnismilieus: values derived from Schulze, 2005 and Karmasin, nd; other characteristics are results from the analysis

Similar energy demands across the population groups
The surprising finding is that despite these different patterns the total energy demand does not differ significantly between the social milieus of experience. It lays at 11.000 to 12.000 kWh per person and year. Thus, different patterns of energy use finally result in similar energy demands, as can be seen in figure 1, which depicts the calculated energy demand per person and year in the social milieus of experience. The most energy-intensive sectors are mobility with the private car and heating. Mobility and heating account for 73 to 87% of total energy demand. Public transport, hot water and lighting only make up about 1% each (though hot water seems to be underestimated due to calculation method, energy demand for cooking probably is overestimated). Energy for air trips explains about the same amount of energy demand as electricity for electrical appliances.

Fig. 1: Average energy demand per capita and year for the four Milieus of Experience; NM: Niveaumilieu, HM: Harmoniemilieu, SM: Selbstverwirklichungsmilieu, UM: Unterhaltungsmilieu

The results include a few key facts as follows:

  1. Particularly poor and elder households (Harmoniemilieu) possess electrical appliances of low energy efficiency and live in badly isolated dwelling places. Those households, however, use fewest appliances, hardly fly, and drive very little.
  2. Young behaviour (Unterhaltungs- and Selbstverwirklichungsmilieu) is characterized by high mobility: Frequent air travels, highest private car mileage per year, and frequent use of public transportation can be seen as indicators for high mobility. As young households hold rather high numbers of electrical appliances which are frequently used, potential energy-savings through the usage of energy-efficient appliances are neutralized.
  3. Elder households (Niveau- and Harmoniemilieu) exhibit major living spaces and predominantly live in detached houses. Thus, their demand for heat energy is generally high. Those population groups do not show any differences related to the thermal quality of their residences.
  4. Population groups that care for efficiency do not have a lower energy demand. Energy efficiency is in all sectors counteracted by augmented usage or augmented ownership. This finding supports the hypothesis that technical energy efficiency rather leads to a rebound effect than to an absolute decrease in energy demand.

Policy recommendations
In order to contribute to effective energy savings, it is thus important to take adequate political action and apply accordant communication strategies. Based on the statistical results and a workshop with stakeholders in December 2009, guidelines were elaborated which aim at reducing the energy consumption of private households:

  1. Focusing solely on energy efficiency will not be sufficient in order to achieve energy savings.
  2. Political actions for motivating private households to save energy need to be manifold and need to consider various perspectives.
  3. Elder and poorer households need assistance regarding the transition to energy efficient appliances.
  4. Thermal improvement of residential buildings needs to be further pushed. However, concepts are required in order to hinder rebound effects (e.g. growing living space while improving thermal insulation). The argumentation for thermal insulation should rather focus on money and comfort, not on environmental issues.
  5. Intense mobility (private cars, flights) largely contributes to an increase in energy consumption of private households. Measures which aim at reducing the energy consumption need to focus more on this sector. Integrated approaches have to be elaborated which also take living structure and the related mobility into account.

Further information
If you are interessted in the database or for further information please contact Lisa Bohunovsky.

This work was funded under "Neue Energien 2020" programme of the Austrian climate and energy fund.

Schulze, G. (2005). Die Erlebnisgesellschaft. Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart (2. Auflage). Frankfurt.
Karmasin Market Research, (nD). Karmasin Motivforschung, Erlebnismilieus. http://www.gallup.at/kmo/images/stories/Erlebnismilieus.pdf, Abruf: 06/20010.