Becoming energy literate users through smart technology

A talk with Italian expert Antonio Disi about smart technologies and “energy illiterate” citizens .

Technology is more and more present in our daily routine. It can simplify our lives and avoid waste of time and money. But how can users truly benefit from the advent of smart technologies? And are citizens ready to deal with the innovations? These are some of the questions we asked Antonio Disi, expert in energy efficiency, researcher at ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development. He is responsible for public campaigns to raise awareness on energy saving such as the “No lift days” and has recently published “Storie di ordinaria energia” (in Italian “Stories of ordinary energy”), ten humorous tales about ordinary people and their stormy relationship with energy and technologies.

Your favourite communication target is those you call “energy illiterate” citizens… Who are they?

Energy illiterate people are those who don’t know how much energy they use, for what purpose or where the energy comes from. They have little understanding of the impact and consequences of their behaviour. Why? Although energy feeds all the technologies around us, it is not part of our common knowledge. For example, in the early years of primary school we only learnt the units of measurement for length, weight, time and volume. Nothing about energy. Instead, school children should be taught better, with support from their families, about the role of energy in our daily lives.

One of the main reasons for this lack of awareness is that energy has always been considered a public good. The free market is something quite recent. Therefore, end consumers have never had to bother with grasping the nature, quantity and cost of energy. And this applies to the whole of Europe, not just to socialist countries.

Today things are different. We can now choose our energy providers but to do so we need to be informed. In almost all EU countries, schools are teaching about energy, integrating social and natural sciences. Pupils are learning about the global perspectives and local impacts. In short the so-called “millennials” and the next generation are ready.

The real problems emerge when we turn to pre-millennial generations to implement policies to reduce energy consumption or boost production from renewable sources. They need much more information, and all EU countries are working on this. For example, a three-year information campaign, is being rolled out by ENEA and promoted by the Ministry for Economic Development to raise consumer awareness of energy saving and efficiency.

As a researcher in the energy field, you have also become a science communicator to popularise technical subjects for the general public. Where and when does this need arise?

Ever since I was a child I have dreamt to be a science communicator. My mentor was Gennaro Savastano, known in Nola, my small native town near Naples, as “don Gennaro the scientist”. He was a technician and used to fix our home appliances. Entering his laboratory was exciting. He showed me how the refrigerator and the washing machine worked, something I have never forgotten. What most fascinated me was how don Gennaro was clear and even funny in his competent explanations, without being afraid to trivialise technical concepts. Straightforwardness can be uncomfortable for many. It requires much more effort and talent, and there’s no cheating, you need to manage the matter very well.

It is the 13th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol. You said that you would like to be the mayor of the Japanese city, where the world’s countries addressed climate change for the first time. Is it still your own dream?

I would very much like to be a mayor, today more than ever… In all seriousness, I do believe that the mayors of the world’s cities can play a fundamental role in achieving the ambitious goals set in Kyoto those thirteen years ago.

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By Loredana Pianta

This article was originally published by

15 Oct 2018

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