Energy demand and energy use

Discussions of energy typically use the word ‘demand’ to refer to the energy that is consumed. This fits with economic framings of ‘demand and supply’, and the way that the energy system is structured to allow unlimited demands for energy from users. This guide does not assume in advance what form of distribution would be used – that should be up to a democratic process. That means that when we talk about the amount of energy use, we use the terms ‘consumption’, ‘use’, or a more technical term ‘load’, and avoid the conflation of quantities of energy consumed in a physical system with amounts of demanded in a market system.  This separation will allow us to think more clearly and to have more choices. 

Demanding something is not a great way of acting in a relationship.  It is much more relational to request, ask, and be willing to hear a ‘no’. The willingness to be disappointed and face rejection or refusal of a request is necessary for a consent-based culture, which many people are working towards in different domains. Someone who makes demands is likely to alienate other people, due to being annoying and immature, unless they have excessive amounts of power relative to other people. Relations of demand are based in power relations of domination, rather than use of inner power to meet one’s own needs and negotiate mutually respectful interdependence with others.

This is just as important when it comes to energy. And yet our energy system is set up so that the companies involved in providing energy to people are required to meet any level of ‘demand’, as long as the one demanding energy has enough money to pay for it. This is so deeply embedded in our energy culture that when we talk about balancing the amount of energy that goes into the electricity or gas network with the amount that goes out, we talk about ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ – terms that come from economic market analyses.

What if instead we had a different approach altogether? A democratic, ecological and human energy system would perhaps be based on need, request, sharing what there is. What if moving away from the language of ‘demand’ makes more space for a feeling of abundance, replacing the artificial scarcity created in consumer culture?