Tom Wein reviews the new Policy Exchange report on energy, and finds much to be positive about.

The think tank Policy Exchange has just released their new report on energy, ‘Smarter, Greener, Cheaper: Joining Up Domestic Energy Efficiency Policy’, penned by Guy Newey.

The first recommendation is on the importance of programmes for behavioural change in energy. These, Newey argues, should be eligible for the same subsidies as more technical fixes. They offer some hefty potential benefits, he explains: if successful, they “will bring down the overall cost of the programme to consumers and therefore help keep energy bills lower. Such an approach could also increase awareness of smart meters and encourage households to request installations.” He is quite right to highlight the potential benefits of behavioural change campaigns in this field.

He is equally right when he cautions that not all behavioural change campaigns deliver value for money, and rigorous methodologies must be employed to deliver results. This is an aspect on which the BDI has been campaigning for some time: an ordinary advertising strategy, with a faddish paragraph about nudging, is not a useful behavioural change strategy. Behavioural change is difficult, and good campaigns are rooted in psychological theory and primary evidence. They target clear behavioural objectives and are tailored to different audiences. ‘Common sense’ rarely suffices. He is also right to put the spotlight on measuring effectiveness; a crucial element of any behavioural change campaign is gathering the evidence to judge its worth. As Newey puts it, “One of the reasons that energy behaviour programmes have not been more widely used is that it is currently hard to prove that energy savings have taken place. The improved granularity and reliability of data that it is hoped will be provided by smart meters should allow much more sophisticated scrutiny of how people use energy.”

The report concludes with the following points: you have to test what works; you must incorporate different messages to target different groups; you must channel those messages through credible figures from outside of government or industry; and you must coordinate your approach with other, related energy programmes, to ensure messages are clear and consistent.

In short, we applaud his approach, which is clearly based on careful thinking about behavioural change, rooted not in gimmickry but in evidence and careful progression. The BDI’s has worked with Policy Exchange before, on understanding unemployment. We are pleased to find ourselves in agreement with their work on energy.

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