The role of community-based initiatives in energy saving

Lead Research Organisation: University of Westminster
Department Name: Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities

Abstract

This project aims to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the role that community-based initiatives can play in fostering net energy savings in UK households.



 



The project adopts a mixed-methods approach and is a collaboration between social scientists and engineers. The main element is an innovative field experiment: a matched case and control trial in which households in both treatment and control groups receive cavity wall and loft insulation. In the treatment group, the insulation is delivered as part of an ongoing community project promoting low-carbon lifestyles. The energy use of the households will be monitored over four heating seasons to discover if the community-based initiative has any significant impact on net energy savings.



 



Regular surveys and selected semi-structured interviews with participants in the treatment and control groups will provide insights into changes in participants' attitudes and practices, including their broader consumption patterns.



 



A second strand of research offers a comparative dimension; comparing the experimental results with the activities and impact of a wider range of community initiatives focused on domestic energy reduction across the UK.


 

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/I007504/1 01/10/2010 31/10/2012 £789,358
ES/I007504/2 Transfer ES/I007504/1 01/11/2012 30/09/2014 £295,725
 
Description The project is the first longitudinal experimental analysis of the impact of community initiatives aimed at reducing domestic energy use. Its rigorous interdisciplinary approach makes a significant contribution to current work on behaviour change that often relies on self-reporting of energy practices and fails to compare the impact of interventions with a control.

The field experiment provides evidence of substantial energy savings from insulating homes for middle class households that contrasts with the results of the Warm Front interventions promoted by the UK government that focused on insulating the dwellings of more vulnerable social groups. This indicates the potential of an effective insulation programme for middle class dwellings as part of an energy reduction and climate change mitigation programme.

A local community environmental group organised annual householder meetings focused on energy consumption alongside its normal programme of green activities (having not previously worked in this area) throughout the three years of the fieldwork. There is weak evidence of a short-term effect on electricity consumption following the first householder meeting, but no evidence of these or other energy savings being sustained over the long term. Further experimental work is necessary to investigate whether more intense community-based behavioural interventions can affect significant and sustained change in energy use.

There is no evidence of an effect of the activities of the community group on broader categories of energy use by householders, such as transport and consumption-related activities.

The comparative strand of research that investigated the activities of community groups engaged in energy reduction projects in other parts of the UK found that many of these groups were reluctant to frame their activities in relation to climate change, preferring instead to focus on the potential for money saving. This 'self-censorship' meant that they tended not to promote more radical behaviour change. The finding contrasts with emerging analysis of interviews with participants in community energy saving groups that suggests that a concern for climate change can be a strong motivator for the uptake of more radical low carbon behaviours, including the reduction of air travel.

Methodologically, the research project contributes lessons to the challenging enterprise of planning and delivering complex field experiments, including difficulties involved in collecting and managing household energy data, working with community groups and householders and private sector contractors with very different working methods.

The data collected by the project team has opened up new research questions related to the determinants of energy consumption. The data is novel in that it relates real time energy use with building fabric and socio-economic and network variables. Initial analysis of the social networks of households suggests that low electricity use is associated with households sharing pro-environmental attitudes and contact with environmental organisations. High energy use is associated with households not sharing any of these attitudes and contacts.
Exploitation Route Our findings and data are likely to be exploited to better understand the determinants of energy use across households. There is a significant gap between the theoretical savings suggested by building physics models and the actual savings realised by households because household circumstances and practices interact with physical building improvements such as insulation. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has already expressed an interest in our findings and data, particularly as they can help calibrate the National Household Model (NHM) that will become the UK government's policy scenario tool for 26 million properties. DECC's plan is for this NHM to be open source so that it can also be used by decision makers across government and in other institutions.

The novel data produced by the project has already been exploited by two RCUK funded projects. The EPSRC-funded Transforming Energy Demand through Digital Innovation project used the energy consumption data to develop household heating energy analytics. This dataset enabled the project's PI to co-develop MyJoulo, a British Gas award winning innovation that facilitates households to better understand their heating practices. The Census 2022: Transforming Small Area Socio-Economic Indicators through 'Big Data' project funded by the ESRC has used the electricity data to explore the relationship between household energy use and socio-economic characteristics.
Sectors Energy,Environment

URL http://www.energy.soton.ac.uk/the-role-of-community-based-initiatives-in-energy-saving/
 
Description The impact from this project is varied and has both social and economic characteristics. A very direct impact of our project is the insulation of 178 properties in our treatment and control communities. This has generated substantial energy savings for those households. We also provided training sessions to community activists in household energy auditing, skills that have been exploited by our community partners Winchester Action on Climate Change (WinACC) in a project funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that delivered 100 free local surveys. The project team also built the capacity of the local environmental campaign group that we partnered within the intervention community to work on community energy saving activities. Members of the project team installed temperature monitoring equipment in the local primary school that enabled teachers to integrate 'energy detective' activities in the curriculum. This raised the awareness of local school children about the nature of energy and was a very practical means by which they could be introduced to mathematical concepts such as scales. At the invitation of DECC, two members of the research team spent 1.5 days in June 2014 in meetings with various officials explaining the policy relevance of findings and exploring how the project data might be used to support DECC's work. Officials were drawn from relevant teams across DECC including Green Deal, Community Energy, Modeling, and Science and Innovation. The nature of our novel data that links real time energy use with building fabric and socio-economic and network variables could be of particular use in helping to calibrate DECC's National Household Model (NHM). The NHM will become the UK government's policy scenario tool for 26 million properties. Currently though, the capacity of the model to assess the impact of interventions such as household insulation is limited: there is a significant gap between the theoretical savings suggested by building physics models and the actual savings by households. This is because household circumstances and practices interact with physical building improvements; an interaction that our project data is able to interrogate. Unfortunately given the current financial situation, DECC does not have the resources to support the necessary analysis and the project team has been unsuccessful in securing follow-on funding. Further avenues to develop this relationship with DECC are currently being explored. A further example of impact was our highly successful conference held in association with our community partners Winchester Action on Climate Change (WinACC) on 24 September 2014. The event was structured to encourage interaction between academic and practitioner insights on the role of communities in household energy reduction. As a significant community activist in the community energy field commented, it was a rare opportunity for reflection on how and why community projects are active in this area and helped to re-energise (no pun intended) his enthusiasm in a challenging area of community action. Two other impacts relate to how our rich and novel real-time energy use data has been exploited by other associated research teams at the University of Southampton. The EPSRC-funded Transforming Energy Demand through Digital Innovation project used the energy consumption data to develop household heating energy analytics. This dataset enabled the project's PI to co-develop MyJoulo, a British Gas award winning innovation that facilitates households to better understand their heating practices. The MyJoulo spin out company was subsequently bought by smart home company Quby (quby.nl). The Census 2022: Transforming Small Area Socio-Economic Indicators through 'Big Data' project funded by the ESRC has used our electricity data to explore the relationship between household energy use and socio-economic characteristics. The Office for National Statistics published a feasibility study by the project team that explores how energy metering data can support national statistics. There have been challenges associated with achieving impact as the experimental element of the project generated a null hypothesis, indicating no significant impact of the community group on the long-term domestic energy saving of participants. Data analysis is still progressing so we expect to continue to undertake impact related activities targeted at relevant groups. Further impacts will be reported as they emerge and evolve.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description (CS) Community energy and energy saving workshop, University of Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Three presentations: 1. The relationship bewteen energy use and membership of environmental organisations; 2. Lessons from community based initiatives; 3. The challenges of monitoring energy use using AlertMe monitoring equipment: pitfalls and opportunities
Discussion of the findings, and building network links with local community energy groups.

too early to report
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cornwall-Energy-Community/548356245247838?ref=hl
 
Description (NB) Scottish Government seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Talk generated questions and discussion from policymakers.

Policymakers considered the case for conducting similar research in Scotland, and consideration of the case for supporting community based energy activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description (NB) Sustainable Livelihoods Research Group Event (University of Surrey) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Generated questions and discussion from academics.

Dissemination of research results and methodological innovation. Academics were alerted to the potential of combining qualitative work with field experiments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description (RW) Bristol Big Green Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sharing knowledge

n/a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description (RW) Critical Geographies Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Made links with other projects

n/a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description (RW) Energy, Climate and Society: Insights from Early Career Researchers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Sharing knowledge

Policy makers showed interest in findings of project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description (RW) Lifecourse Transitions: Opportunities for Sustainable Lifestyles? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Sharing knowledge

n/a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description (RW) The Role of Communities in Household Energy Reduction (Project dissemination event) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Sharing knowledge

n/a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Presentation "Can grassroots organisations support people to reduce their carbon footprint?" by Milena Buchs, at the Pint of Science Festival, 24 May 2016, Southampton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public talk in a local science festival
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2016/05/pint-of-science.page