New centre will improve our understanding of home energy usage

Dr Tina Fawcett and Dr Philippe Grünewald

A new Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL) will generate data on energy usage in UK homes, informing future measures to reduce carbon emissions.

EDOL will be led by the University of Oxford and UCL.

EDOL is supported by £8.7 million from UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Energy use in homes is responsible for almost a fifth of UK carbon emissions, and the biggest driver of increased energy demands during the peak winter period.

Domestic energy switch

If the UK is to reach net zero emissions by 2050, domestic energy will have to stop using natural gas and transition to a fully-electric system.

However, there is currently very little information on how this will impact patterns of energy usage, and whether this will overlap with other changes to the UK’s energy system.

This includes the increased uptake of electric cars and heat pumps.

High-resolution data

The EDOL will address this by providing a high-resolution data resource that will track energy use in real households.

This will enable us to understand how, why, and when domestic activity is impacting energy demand and associated carbon emissions.

EDOL will develop a range of innovative methods, including innovations emerging around artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

These methods will monitor not only the energy consumed by different appliances, but also the different energy-using activities that make up daily life at home.

3 elements of EDOL

The EDOL will consist of 3 elements:

  • an ‘observatory’ of 2,000 representative UK households equipped with sensors to record the energy used by occupants, their appliances, and their behaviours. The anonymised data will then be analysed by researchers to better understand patterns of energy demand in our homes
  • ‘forensic’ analyses of sub-samples of homes that have novel or lesser-known forms of energy demand (for instance, smart charging of electric vehicles). This could include detailed surveys, interviews, and in-depth monitoring
  • ‘field laboratories’ of 100 to 200 households in which policies, technologies, business models, and other interventions can be tried out and compared to relevant control groups in the observatory. This will allow the researchers to answer novel questions, such as:
    • ‘how flexible is the time when people choose to charge their electric vehicles?’
    • ‘does installing a heat pump have unintended consequences such as increased tumble drying of cloths due to lower radiator temperatures?’

Unprecedented scale

EPSRC Director for Cross-Council Programmes, Dr Kedar Pandya, said:

Accurate, high-resolution data will be crucial to understanding energy usage across UK households and informing new forms of energy usage.

With support from government, the EDOL will build on the work of the Smart Energy Research Lab to address this need.

It will offer unprecedented scale in providing this data, which will support the decisions needed to help us to reduce carbon emissions and make the switch to net zero.

Dynamic research

Co-lead Dr Philipp Grünewald from the University of Oxford said:

EDOL will raise evidence-based policymaking to a new level, by providing a scientifically rigorous demand observatory.

This collaboration will be unique in providing a detailed, longitudinal resource of UK domestic energy use which will be available to scientists, industry, and policymakers.

The research will be dynamic, able to respond to a fast-moving technological and policy landscape, and will enable us to propose cost-effective smart data solutions and innovation in real-time and at scale.

Dr Tina Fawcett from Oxford, who will lead the social research aspect of the project, said:

EDOL is a really important, long-term investment in energy demand research, which will enable us to understand current and future household energy use as never before.

The experiments with EDOL households will allow us to explore who benefits or loses from different social, technical and economic energy interventions.

This will help provide the evidence we need to create a just energy transition.

Top image:  Dr Tina Fawcett and Dr Philippe Grünewald. Credit: Ian Wallman

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