Dr Nives Della Valle is a Scientific Project Officer at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, specializing in everything from the intricacies of energy efficiency to the challenges of addressing energy poverty. In this conversation, Dr Nives Della Valle will lead us to the intriguing world of policy analysis and behavioral insights as applied to address multifaceted energy-related concerns and shape the future of energy sustainability in Europe and beyond.
1. What is the main focus of your research?
I am a behavioural economist passionate about comprehending the intricate interplay between citizen decision-making, energy policies, and social justice considerations. With a multifaceted approach, I try to understand how to address key challenges in the energy sector, with a particular focus on energy poverty, behaviour regarding energy consumption and energy efficiency, and evidence-based policy-making.
My research involves delving into the behavioural and social factors that shape energy-related choices. Through the design and implementation of online surveys and experiments, I investigate the ways in which cognitive biases and community trust influence energy decision-making, particularly in contexts like energy poverty. Beyond comprehending these dynamics, my driving force is to identify strategies that empower energy poor, enabling them to take an active role as energy citizens beyond mere optimal energy consumption, such as through participating to an energy community. My research also extends to the relationship between climate policies and energy poverty, where I use behavioural economic insights to address some of the problems that might hinder climate policy acceptance.
A key aspect of my research is the use of economic experiments. Economic experiments not only enable to isolate key factors shaping energy-related choices, but also offer a testbed to assess the efficacy of policy interventions. This encompasses investigating policy mixes and the potential for behavioural spillovers when an intervention's influence on one behaviour inadvertently leads to an unintended change in another behaviour (see policy brief).
Beyond experiments, I also embrace a diverse range of methodologies to gain a thorough understanding of energy challenges. For instance, I discovered the power of agent-based modelling (ABM) to simulate complex decision-making processes, such as renovation decision-making. Additionally, I employ various econometric approaches and qualitative methods, including interviews, to assess policy effectiveness and deepen the intricate dynamics of energy behaviours.
Lastly, multidisciplinary collaboration is a key aspect of my research. Engaging with geographers, sociologists, and engineers always enriches me with a holistic perspective on energy challenges, leading to the proposition of more comprehensive solutions.
2. How do you directly address Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?
A key focus my research is on identifying the factors that shape and the strategies that address the multifaceted problem of energy poverty.
Through a combination of behavioural economic applications and multidisciplinary collaborations, my research aims to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), by identifying ways to empower the energy-poor. Through empowerment, they can more likely become protagonists in the collective effort to combat climate change, and simultaneously access the energy services necessary to meet their needs.
I also study ways to make policies addressing energy poverty more effective. This involves using an evidence-based approach, which means gathering solid data and insights to understand what works best in real-world situations, such as using experiments.
My commitment to SG7, however, goes beyond just researching. I am actively involved in key reference groups that work to make the energy transition fair while fighting energy poverty. As an example, I take part in the works of the Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) and the Italian Energy Poverty Observatory (OIPE) and contribute to initiatives like ASSIST (Support Network for Household Energy Saving).
3. How can we develop a comprehensive framework for assessing energy justice, and what are the key factors to consider?
The concept of energy justice is gaining recognition and is now finding its way into policy discussions (“We can leave no one behind” in the transition). Energy justice envisions a global energy system that fairly shares both the benefits and challenges of energy services among everyone. Additionally, it emphasizes decision-making processes that are unbiased and inclusive, considering the viewpoints of all stakeholders.
To develop a comprehensive framework for assessing energy justice, we must consider several key factors. A key proposed approach is the "triumvirate of energy justice," building on the principles of environmental and climate justice. This framework consists of three pillars: distributional justice (ensuring fairness in how energy benefits and costs are distributed), procedural justice (making decisions transparently and equitably), and justice as recognition (acknowledging the rights and contributions of individuals).
However, creating a robust assessment framework involves more than just these pillars. Often, cosmopolitan, intergenerational, and restorative justices are also considered as key. That is why interdisciplinary collaboration is essential, as energy justice is a complex issue that requires insights from various fields. Policy integration is also crucial, as energy justice considerations must be ultimately embedded in energy policies, considering both local and global contexts, as energy justice can vary based on geographical and cultural factors.
The contributions from initiatives like the Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH) and the Covenant of Mayors are key in this endeavour. These platforms gather expertise, stakeholders, and collaboration opportunities, facilitating the fight against energy poverty and the promotion of energy justice by national, regional, and local governments.
Additionally, quantifying the principles of energy justice can promote its operationalization and accurate interpretation in policy-making. For instance, in a parallel endeavour focused on climate-neutral cities, we evaluated climate justice within urban climate strategies by creating a metric that considers recognition, distributive, procedural, and intergenerational aspects. This approach helped pinpoint where interventions are needed to foster equitable and just decisions in urban climate policy.
4. How is public awareness and engagement manifested in your field, and how do you envision open access journals, such as Scientific Reports, enhancing this aspect?
In the realm of behavioral economics and social sciences applied to energy, public awareness and engagement play a pivotal role.
By raising awareness through accessible communication channels, such as informative articles, news features, and public talks, we can bridge the gap between scientific research and the broader community and encourage dialogue on energy-related issues.
A key dissemination platform in this context is the European Sustainable Energy Week, where, at the last edition, I talked about energy poverty and financial inclusion for energy efficiency.
Open access journals are also key, as they provide unrestricted access to research to both policymakers and the public.
5. How significant do you consider the role of researchers in creating a positive societal impact through their work?
The role of researchers in creating a positive societal impact through their work is a responsibility that we hold. Researchers possess a unique capacity to advance innovative solutions and evidence-based knowledge that directly addresses the most pressing challenges our society faces. As we confront complex issues such as climate change, energy transition, and social inequalities, commitment to rigorous research and willingness to embark interdisciplinary collaborations can guide our research towards actionable recommendations for policy.
We also have the responsibility to disseminate knowledge and foster a good understanding of societal and environmental challenges among the public. Recognizing that addressing collective challenges requires a level of shared information and the inclusion of diverse experiences, our role as social science researchers is also finding ways to ensure that every voice is heard and that the pathway to sustainable solutions is inclusive and well-informed.