The housing and transport sectors represent the largest potential source of energy savings: however, the modification of the energy technologies and habits in those sectors is hard to attain with standard energy saving instruments (taxes, subsidies, etc.) because they consist in millions of heterogeneous actors.
Since 2013, France decided to implement the Energy Saving Certificates (ESC) Scheme: the State obligates the main energy suppliers to encourage the millions of energy consumers to adopt more efficient technologies (Giraudet 2011). So far, this instrument has been presented as both innovative and successful because it mixes several standard instruments and because it attains all its goals. However, major criticism has been raised about its control by the public administration and the effectivity of its implementation (IGF 2014, Cour des Comptes 2013, 2016). As this instrument is gaining momentum is France and in fifteen other countries, the question must be asked: could it be that the ESC Scheme is not such a good idea?
So far, public policy instruments are characterized as objects, through a little number of dimensions (e.g. the level of coerciveness). This dimensional approach is inadequate to characterize and evaluate the implementation of instruments, and is therefore unable to distinguish truly innovative instruments from merely impracticable announcement effects.
After agreeing that innovative public policy instruments are both new and effective instruments, we ask three questions: how can we characterize instruments as processes of collective action that are meant to be implemented? how can we more systematically evaluate the effectivity of their implementation? is the ESC Scheme truly effective?
Within the frame of intervention research, we agreed to define an instrument as a specific intended causal chain of public action, and formulated an algorithmic language along some instrumental elements (actors, actions, events, logical operators and impact vectors) in order to characterize instruments in an ostensive way. After developing a method to evaluate the newness and the effectivity of any instrument, we define an innovative instrument as a new causal chain that is effectively implemented in the socio-technical reality. We apply these methods on the ESC Scheme.
In order to characterize and evaluate the causal chain of the ESC Scheme, we studied its regulatory and legislative texts and we involved the actors in charge of its evaluation and its implementation within the frame of intervention research.
Within this generic framework, and what we called a combinatory design method, we chose to question the innovative nature of the Energy Savings Certificates scheme (ESC). We first characterized the causal chain of its collective action, and revealed the intricacies of multiple actors, actions, influences and conditions. Then we identified the potential implementation biases and obstacles and show that the mix of regulatory obligations and the flexibility of means is the main responsible of a managerial gridlock: because of the complexity of this instrument, the public authorities are quite unable to check and control its effectivity, which can stir up mistakes and frauds among the target actors (firms, households, etc.). To finish with, we elaborated an evaluation protocol and formulated several possible lines of innovation.
Contribution to Scholarship
The combinatory design method we developed can contribute both to the academic and the operational fields: (a) it allows a more explicit representation of all existing instruments and enable actors to design new ones; (b) it contributes to more precisely evaluate the implementation of instruments, and identify and circumvent biases and obstacles; (c) its common language is meant to gather different actors in the process of designing public policies (and more generally collective actions) and have them explicit and confront their representation of the socio-technical reality, possibilities and goals.
Contribution to Practice
As for the specific evaluation of the ESC Scheme, our results reveal the limits and the potentialities of this instrument in the context of energy and ecological transition.
In the frame of the energy transition, the ESC Scheme should be rapidly modified in order to avoid major and irreversible managerial pitfalls, and in order to enhance new markets, industries and ecosystems. Bridging research, industry, society and policy makers is therefore crucial.
Baïz A. et Nakhla M., 2018. Pour une approche algorithmique de la nature protéiforme et fractale des instruments de l’action collective. Revue Politiques et Management Public, 153-172.
Cour des Comptes (2013). Les certificats d’économies d’énergie. Rapport (en ligne).
Cour des Comptes (2016). Les certificats d’économies d’énergie : un dispositif amélioré. Rapport (en ligne).
Giraudet L.-G. (2011). Les instruments économiques de maitrise de l’énergie : une évaluation multidimensionnelle. Economies et finances. Université Paris-Est.
IGF, CGEDD, CGE, 2014. Les certificats d’économies d’énergie : efficacité énergétique et analyse économique. (en ligne).