(Source: National Grid, UK)
Earlier this week I attended a fascinating workshop on household energy practises at Durham University (hosted and organised by Harriet Bulkeley and her research team). The workshop was for an Social Science Advisory Group, which has been established to advise on Northern Powergrid and British Gas’s Customer Led Network Revolution. This scheme centres around the largest smart-grid project in the UK (involving 14,000 homes and costing £54 million to implement). While our discussions were broad ranging and considered the potential impacts on smart meeting and In-House Energy Displays on household energy usage, one of the most interesting things about the workshop for me was the perspective it provided on the processes that are driving the restructuring of the domestic and commercial energy market in the UK.
While the move towards smart-grids and meters is, of course, being driven by a desire to reduce, in aggregate, household energy use and thus help the UK along the road to a lower carbon economy, it is also being conditioned by issues of daily household demand.
The diagram above is a load profile of energy use across the UK over the past 7 days (these profiles are available from the National Grid). What this load profile reveals are the daily fluctuations that exist in British energy use (with the expected peaks in the morning and evening periods). It is interesting to note that with the onset of the low carbon, electric economy, these peak energy use periods are likely to see more energy demand being placed upon them (as people plug in their electric cars after returning home from a long day of work). Given the great pressures that such load profiles place on energy supply networks during peak periods, energy suppliers are not only interested in how to make the home more energy efficient, but also how to redistribute energy use throughout the day.
The redistribution of energy use has, of course, been a long-time concern of energy suppliers. As a previous user of storage heaters I was able to make the most of the low, off-peak energy tariffs associated with the Economy Seven initiative. But current discussions about the timing of domestic energy practise have interesting implications for behaviour change policies. It appears that shifting people’s TV watching practises from the peak evening slot of 7-9pm will be difficult, as will moving the timing of when people cook their evening meals. There may be more flexibility, however, as to precisely when people choose to take a bath/shower or put their washing machines on. New tariffs are being used to incentivise off-peak energy use, but as all UK homes join smart grids over the next decade, it will be interesting to see just how flexible our domestic energy use routines actually are.