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Understanding barriers: “getting behind the what”

I’m always struck by the huge opportunities for green energy projects that are “win-win.” These projects make economic and financial sense that also benefits the environment. So why aren’t more of these projects being implemented?

Understanding the barriers to energy efficiency and renewable energy investments is key to making projects happen. But successful project design requires going beyond a simple barrier analysis that examines only “what” is happening. Building on E.F. Schumacher’s famous saying: we need to find out what people are doing – and then understand why – before helping them to do it better. In other words, we need to “get behind the what”

At counterpoint, we’ve adopted several approaches that we use to maximize our understanding of barriers: We start by asking “what” is happening, then focus on understanding “why do people do what they do?”

Much of the barrier analysis that we’ve seen stops at the “what,” but designing sustainable energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives requires a deep understanding of why decisions are being made. After all, many things that people do might seem crazy at first glance! But there are often very good reasons for such behaviour.

For example, in many parts of Eastern Europe, we’ve seen people installing their own electric boilers while they are still connected to much lower cost district heating systems. This seems odd, but people are actually ensuring their own hot water supply for the month or two of summer repair to the community system. In some countries, where district heating systems were particularly unreliable we’ve seen other creative solutions!

Map the Market

To help identify root (and interrelated) causes, we recommend using mapping methodology to provide a consistent way of examining the situation and pinpointing key barriers. Market mapping helps us to understand how the market currently works by mapping flows of resources or money. Then, we can better identify where to intervene.

For a project in Romania on fuel poverty, counterpoint mapped the flows of money, information and resources to understand how households made decisions when doing self-upgrades (i.e., DIY of low quality/non energy efficient home improvements). This analysis gave insight into the impacts of subsidies, potential intervention points for savings and ultimately the barriers to addressing fuel poverty at the national level.

 

 

counterpoint used a similar systematic approach to verify the market barriers to private sector investments in grid connected and captive power renewable energy in Kenya. A problem tree helped visualize the cause-effect hierarchy between market barriers. Above the “starting” mid-level key problem (“low level of renewable power production”) are the effects (such as “over-dependence on traditional sources of energy” and ultimately “high GHG emissions”) and below this are the many causes. Visually, this problem tree highlights the fact that a key barrier (problem) is the high relative cost of renewable power although this has many interrelated causes.

Facilitate the analysis

People at the local level often have unique insights into what could help their situation. At the same time, the people closest to the problem frequently can’t clearly see the barriers themselves! Often they need support to conduct barrier analysis and then design removal strategies. We’ve found that the mapping tools mentioned above are particularly useful as inputs to facilitated stakeholder discussions of barriers.

Understanding market barriers is fundamental to designing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Only by digging deep, mapping the market, listening to those who face the problem every day and continuing to ask “why” can we design a project that will be sustainable.

Let us know what approaches you’ve used to analyze barriers in your projects. Or if you’d like to find out more about how you can map your market, or better understand your market’s barriers, feel free to contact us at counterpoint.