by Petra Caruana Dingli

The Times of Malta has pointed out that the promise of cheaper electricity might lead to people losing interest in solar energy. Financial considerations win over environmental concerns in most families. Photovoltaic panels require a substantial capital outlay and if electricity is going to be cheaper then the idea of investing in panels may be less attractive.

It would not be great for the environment if people were to shove aside alternative energy, or energy saving, in response to cheaper electricity.

The total consumption of electricity in Malta fell by 5% from 2008 to 2009, and was still at around that level in 2011. One reason for this was the rise in electricity rates. True, the international economic climate probably played a role, but the spike in electricity prices certainly made people more vigilant about switching off their air conditioners and heaters, and choosing energy-efficient appliances. The change in people’s behaviour helped to reduce total energy consumption – even though this may have been the last thing on their mind.

The government has now promised to put down electricity prices by 25% for households by March 2014, and further reductions will be introduced later. It is not clear to me how these imminent reductions will be financed, given that Enemalta’s debt is portrayed like a dead albatross around our collective neck, but nobody in their right mind complains about paying less. Perhaps the Chinese or the lost people of Atlantis will pick up the bill. Who cares? Everyone is obviously looking forward to lower prices. Everyone is happy.

Forgive me for stating the obvious but it is basic theory in economics that people respond to shifts in price by changing their behaviour and consumption patterns. Energy consumption is partly influenced by price. When electricity becomes cheaper again, will people drift back to using more energy? Has an estimate of the impact of a sharp drop in prices on electricity consumption been published? I have not seen it. Hey, perhaps nobody cares about this either.

A recent report by the European Environment Agency shows how behavioural change across the board is required to achieve energy efficiency and reduce consumption. We are moving towards more efficient energy production with gas, but the end user is also part of the story.

The Malta Resources Authority is trying to raise awareness about energy efficiency in homes and buildings – but where are the results and what are the main reasons that drive people to conserve energy in Malta?

Our developers have filled the place with badly finished buildings, with hardly a nod towards energy efficiency. A colossal effort must be made to create more energy-efficient buildings. Energy audits can help people understand in some detail how they are using energy at home and at work, and figure out their savings potential… and can somebody please explain what is going on with those Smart Meters?