Knowing more, using less : the prospects for household-led change in energy and Water Systems




Reinhardt, Walter William

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Energy and water systems are under pressure. In particular, electricity and urban water systems suffer from environmental and social constraints on the expansion of supply yet growing demand with population and development. Reductions in per capita electricity and water use may be necessary on a scale that is transformative. What role will households have in the transformation of electricity and urban water systems? To conceptualise the role of households I argue that electricity and urban water exhibit common pool resource characteristics, which invites the use of the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework. Under the IAD framework, participation in resource use and participation in governance are identified as key roles for households. Analysis of household resource use and participation in governance are the two major sections of analysis in the study. South Eastern Australia is used as a case study since it is representative of much of the challenges faced in the developed world. Research methods include policy analysis of the current institutional arrangements, an online survey of household electricity and water consumption, behaviours, technology, perceptions of policy, socio-demographics and housing stock (N=1,254) in June 2013, and electricity and water industry surveys of perceptions of policy (N=53 and N=64, respectively) in March 2013. For household resource use, I investigate whether environmentally concerned and knowledgeable individuals have lower household electricity and water consumption. I define knowledge as an understanding of energy or water use in daily life and develop a novel measurement method. I find that people with high environmental concern and high knowledge are more likely to act to save energy and water, but these actions do not generate significant reductions in consumption. The limited capacity of motivated individuals to change household consumption is recognised as constraining autonomous change, and thus limiting the capacity of households to lead change in electricity and urban water use. For governance of resources, I investigate demand management policy and public participation in policy making. Demand management is defined as deliberate reductions in consumption in time or place, and demand management policy is conceptualised in the IAD framework as a collective-choice decision. I develop a novel typology to analyse policy selection in practice, and compare practice with public perceptions. I find that there is little public participation in electricity and water policy making and that diverse public perspectives on policy may inhibit greater levels of participation. However, I find areas of policy design and selection where public perceptions can contribute to improved demand management policy making. Overall, I find that households will not lead transformation of electricity and urban water systems, either in changing resource use or through governance participation. However, I demonstrate the necessity of household participation and thus contribute a nuanced analysis of the nature and scale of household contribution to change in electricity and urban water systems. I conclude by showing that the framework developed in this thesis may provide a foundation for future research to enable transformative change.






Thesis (PhD)

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

Open Access

License Rights



Restricted until