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The importance of social relations in shaping energy demand


Current efforts to change patterns of energy demand tend to target people as discrete and isolated individuals. In so doing, they ignore the fact that energy use occurs in places such as homes, workplaces and communities in which complex webs of social relations already exist. Here, we argue that more attention should be paid to how people’s social relations influence energy demand. We review recent qualitative research to show how social relations shape how much energy people use, when and where they use it, as well as how they respond to interventions. We propose a typology that identifies three types of social relation as especially significant: those with family and friends, with agencies and communities, and those associated with social identities. We show how a focus on social relations can generate new forms of policy and intervention in efforts to build more just and sustainable energy futures.

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This Perspective draws on insights and evidence drawn from several research projects. The authors would like to thank the following funding bodies: the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant numbers: PTA-031-2004-00291 & PTA-026-27-2086); Carbon Connections (grant number: CC29); the UK Engineering and Physical Research Council (grant numbers: EP/F022832/1 and EP/K002430/1) and the White Rose Collaboration Fund (grant number: n/a). The authors thank all participants across these projects for sharing their insights and everyday expertise. Finally, the authors are grateful to Mary Tallontire (@murkybucket) for providing the illustrations contained in Boxes 1 and 2.

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Correspondence to Tom Hargreaves.

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Hargreaves, T., Middlemiss, L. The importance of social relations in shaping energy demand. Nat Energy 5, 195–201 (2020).

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