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The unlimited consumption of the current society is already giving rise to a crisis caused by the depletion of energy and resources. Hence, it has revealed undeniable that the energy consumption of Global Northern countries must be reduced. However, the measures that are proposed generally focus on residential direct energy consumption. But to what extent is this relevant? How can a greater reduction in energy footprint be obtained? In this new research carried out by the research groups Ekopol and Life Cycle Thinking Group, from the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, it is concluded that an alternative and community lifestyle can, indeed, reduce our energy footprint, due to the importance of the energy embedded in the goods and services we consume. Particularly, the energy footprint per inhabitant of Errekaleor was found to be 24% smaller than the Basque one.

Identifying the energy needs of citizens and taking into account different lifestyles and patterns of consumption is a first step for a global transformation towards renewable, fair and democratic energy systems. Currently, Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) is the most widely used metric of energy consumption, which only includes the energy consumed within a country. This research addresses an alternative indicator, Total Primary Energy Footprint (TPEF), which also includes the energy embedded in imported goods and services. The research is innovative in its pioneering combination of a Global Multi-Regional Input-Output (GMRIO) methodology with household budget surveys (HBS) and consumption to production sectorial bridge matrices to calculate TPEF at a small community level. Errekaleor, the largest off-grid alternative intentional community located in Basque Country, Spain, was taken as a case study.

The results show, firstly, that alternative communal living can reduce energy consumption. In terms of the specific case study, even if direct residential energy consumption (4.46 MWh·cap−1·yr−1) was shown to be 32 % and 15 % higher in Errekaleor as compared with Basque and Spanish averages, a TPEF of 31.10 MWh·cap−1·yr−1 per capita was determined for the community, 24 % and 14 % below the regional and national averages. Secondly, the relevance of indirect energy embedded in acquired goods and services in determining consumption-based energy use was shown. This accounts for 81 % of total consumption in Spain, 75 % in the Basque Country, and 66 % in Errekaleor. Within Errekaleor, individual arrangements impacted significantly, as people living in families have 33.5 % smaller energy footprints (28.45 MWh·cap−1·yr−1) than individuals living alone (42.79 MWh·cap−1·yr−1), who have a TPEF above the Basque average. Thus, the combination of GMRIO and HBS in the analyzed bottom-up case study made an important contribution in terms of clarifying the existing debate about the relative energy efficiency of alternative communities.