Loughborough University
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The rhythm of life is a powerful beat: demand response opportunities for time-shifting domestic electricity practices

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posted on 2014-10-08, 08:34 authored by Sarah L. Higginson
The 2008 Climate Change Act set legally-binding carbon reduction targets. Demand side management (DSM) includes energy use reduction and peak shaving and offers significant potential to reduce the amount of carbon used by the electricity grid. The demand side management (DSM) schemes that have tried to meet this challenge have been dominated by engineering-based approaches and so favour tools like automation (which aims to make shifting invisible) and pricing (which requires customer response) to shift demand. These approaches tend to focus on the tools for change and take little account of people and energy-use practices. This thesis argues that these approaches are limited and therefore unlikely to produce the level of response that will be needed in future. The thesis therefore investigates the potential for time-shifting domestic energy demand but takes a different angle by trying to understand how people use energy in their daily lives, whether this use can be shifted and some of the implications of shifting it. The centrepiece of the work is an empirical study of eleven households energy-use practices. The interdisciplinary methodology involved in-house observations, interviews, photographs, metered energy data and disruptive interventions. The data was collected in two phases. Initially, a twenty-four hour observation was carried out in each household to find out how energy was implicated in everyday practices. Next, a series of three challenges were carried out, aimed at assessing the implications of disrupting practices by time-shifting food preparation, laundry and work/ leisure. A practice theory approach is used to shift the focus of attention from appliances, tools for change, behaviour or even people, to practices. The central finding of this work is that practices were flexible. This finding is nuanced, in the light of the empirical research, by an extended discussion on the nature of practices; in particular, the relationship between practices and agency and the temporal-spatial locatedness of practices. The findings demonstrate that, in this study at least, expanding the range of demand response options was possible. The research suggests numerous possibilities for extending the potential of practices to shift in time and space, shift the energy used in practices or substitute practices for other non-energy-using practices, though there are no simple technological or behavioural fixes . More profoundly, however, the thesis concludes that infrastructures of provision , such as the electricity grid and the companies that run it, underpin and facilitate energy-use practices irrespective of the time of day and year. In this context technology-led demand response schemes may ultimately contribute to the problem they purport to solve. A more fundamental interrogation of demand and the infrastructures that serve it is therefore necessary and is almost entirely absent from the demand response debate.





  • Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering


© Sarah Higginson

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en