The energy and monetary implications of the ‘24/7’ ‘always on’ society

This paper reviews the trends in society, technology and energy demand of the past 30 years, together with the growth of the ‘on-demand’ culture. The ‘24/7’ or ‘always on’ society can be defined as one where people demand—and generally receive—what they want ‘now’. It has grown up in parallel with developments in information technology, which have produced the services needed to meet that demand. Larger numbers of appliances, resulting from greater affluence and disposable income, have increased energy use, despite energy efficiencies in other areas. While monetary factors suggest that changes brought about by the 24/7 society will generally be self-correcting at the macro-economic level, there will nevertheless be effects for individuals, such as potentially severe impacts on the fuel poor as electricity prices rise. We conclude with a view of future directions. As the 24/7 culture continues to grow, there is scope for designers and for information technology to manage and reduce energy consumption. This includes buildings, their services systems, and the mix of new technologies that will be deployed over the next 20 years or so, including the possibilities for data exchange and control at the interface between energy suppliers and consumers, coupled with greater understanding of the behaviour of the consumers themselves.