IDEAL: Intelligent Domestic Energy Advice Loop

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Informatics


Reducing energy demand from existing dwellings through occupant behaviour change is crucial for meeting UK carbon emission reduction targets. Dwellings account directly for 32% of UK energy consumption, and corresponding carbon emissions. While there are many reduction efforts aimed at new-build, a focus on existing dwellings is essential: 80% of the dwellings that will be in place in the UK in 2050 are already built. Attention to behaviour change is important - behavioural differences are estimated by DECC to account for 60% of the variance in demand. Demand related to heat is key - 80% of domestic energy demand is for heating. Using an interdisciplinary conceptual framework, our team of computer scientists, building engineers and sociologists will work together to explore the interaction of energy technologies and householder energy behaviours. For the first time household energy demand will be able to be analysed in great detail across a large number of homes and the effect of behavioural feedback evaluated over a multi-year period.

The Smart Meter rollout planned to be complete by 2020 is intended to encourage householders to reduce their energy demand. These meters and the associated monitors create a feedback loop to householders in which energy-consumption information from the meters is provided to the householder on the monitor in the hope that this will cause him or her to change behaviours to reduce the amount of energy used, or the amount of money spent on energy, or the associated carbon emissions. This project's main goal is to construct an enhanced feedback loop which provides information to householders not just on their energy consumption, but also on what activities they are using energy, how much for each one, together with suggestions for what they might do to reduce their energy expenditure and use. We would hope to be able to tell the householder things like: "Last week you spent £10 on hot water for showers", or "Yesterday you spent £4 on heating your flat, if you turned off the heating at night you would probably have only spent £3 - you could save around £250 a year by doing this".

We will construct this feedback loop and evaluate its effectiveness compared to standard Smart Meter type feedback by involving hundreds of households in a study over a three year period. We will involve a variety of types of households including single people, multi-adult dwellings, and families, and expect to have participants across income brackets.

The feedback loop will use small unobtrusive wireless sensors in the dwellings to record data and transmit it over the internet to a large secure database; and a tablet PC to provide information back to householders. The data will be processed by software to tell the occupants how much energy, carbon and money they are spending on which energy-related activities - for example over the last day, week, month, and year.

This feedback loop will run for several years (up to 3) and will provide the participants with a wealth of information that they can use to reduce their energy expenditure. We will compare how effective this feedback is with that provided by Smart Meters, that does not break down energy use into the important energy-using behaviours (particularly for gas use). At the end of the study we will ask participants if we can use the data we have gathered, with all personal information removed, in future studies. Those that agree will be contributing to a database that will be invaluable for future research efforts by us and others.

If we can show that this loop is effective in helping people to reduce their energy demand, then we expect that energy suppliers and other companies will start to offer it as a service to households to help them keep their energy costs down. This will contribute to reducing energy poverty as well as the challenge of meeting UK 2050 carbon emission targets.

Planned Impact

The main direct beneficiaries of the project include: 1) householders who pay energy bills, 2) utilities and other commercial enterprises that offer energy-related services to households, 3) policymakers charged with structuring policies to meet the UK carbon and energy security targets, and 4) third-sector and profit-making organisations that are often contracted to deliver aspects of carbon and energy policies in the domestic sector.

Householders beyond the study will benefit directly from what we learn about how to effectively catalyse behaviour change that reduces their domestic energy consumption. This will save them money immediately, and will contribute to emissions reductions which will benefit them in the longer term.

Service providers will benefit to the extent that we can identify behaviour change strategies that fit with the provider's goals. Utilities have government-mandated requirements to assist in demand reduction, which our results should help with. If we can identify significant potential savings, this will open the door for providers to offer new profit-making services to householders to achieve those savings.

Policymakers will benefit because for the first time we will be able to quantify the potential savings from providing behavioural feedback to dwelling residents. There is much speculation about potential savings but very little in the way of hard data - this project will remedy that lack. Quantification will enable policymakers to better plan the strategies for delivering the UK 2020 and 2050 emission targets.

Organisations that are already active in demand-reduction policy delivery will benefit because they will have more accurate advice and potentially a new set of tools to offer householders in the drive for demand reduction.

Indirectly, everyone in the UK will benefit from demand reduction because, as an activity that increases the efficiency with which energy is used in the home (adequate comfort and convenience delivered with less energy), it will contribute to UK economic competitiveness. In macroeconomic terms, residential demand reduction translates to lower costs for consumers, freeing up discretionary spending which boosts growth.

Additionally, everyone in the UK will benefit from demand reduction to the extent that it results in lower emissions, and therefore reduced requirement for and cost of mitigation measures.


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Description We have developed a low-power low-cost sensor system for houses, which records temperature, light level and humidity in every room, gas and electricity consumption with high precision, and combi-boiler use for heating and hot-water. This has been deployed in 40 households and further households will be added (up to about 250).
We have also developed methods for disaggregating electricity meter data which exceed state of the art competitors. We have developed methods for inferring heat use from ambient sensor data and expect to extend this to disaggregating gase use.

We have developed a real-time online web and android tablet/smartphone energy feedback application. Not only does it provide energy feedback but also an interactive energy testing environment that allows households to test how much energy either an appliance or collection of appliances use at any one time. For example they may want to see how much electricity is used by cooking their evening meal.
Exploitation Route We expect to offer the design and manufacture specification to other RCUK research projects, and we may explore licensing to the private sector.
The disaggregation methods are published and are being contributed to an open-source toolkit NILMTK. We expect to start to make the raw data available to the research community this year (2020).

We are working together with the Energy Savings Trust to identify funding to take the app and make it more widely available. In the first instance this would be directly to the Energy Savings Trust customers. Currently their service only has an advisor interface and the Ideal Energy feedback application provides the opportunity to have a customer facing service. Adaptation would be required as the data available to the Energy savings trust customers would be at smartmeter resolution unless the customer has a consumer access device. Thus further work and avenues for funding to support this work are being put together with EST.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment

Description We contributed to a supplement to New Statesman entitled Reduce the Carbon, published in October 2015. This articulated in lay terms the potential that demand reduction in the domestic sector can play in the overall energy system, with respect to cost, security and carbon emissions. Disaggregation methods such as ours are in increasingly widespread use in the energy sector by a variety of players, particularly energy supply companies who see added value in providing a breakdown of household electricity bills to consumers. We published a research brief for policymakers and the general public: Pullinger, M., Lovell, H. & Webb, J. (2018). Household energy meters: From humble measuring device to instrument of energy system transition? In May 2021 we published the most extensive and detailed UK household energy dataset (the IDEAL dataset), arising from this and a related project: It is described in detail in the Nature Scientific Data paper: In the past 10 months it has been accessed over 3000 times from multiple countries around the world, with a continuing rate of 200-300 accesses per month. As the UK moves its primary domestic heating technology from gas boilers to electric heat pumps, the detailed heating-related data in the IDEAL dataset is helping academic and industry groups to project the impact of this transition on the electricity grid.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy
Impact Types Cultural,Economic,Policy & public services

Description DecarbonISation PAThways for Cooling and Heating (DISPATCH)
Amount £1,401,881 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V042955/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 09/2024
Description Policy and Research
Amount £47,923 (GBP)
Organisation Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2016
Description Research Network
Amount £28,211 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L013681/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2013 
End 06/2017
Description Smart Meter Research Portal
Amount £5,938,853 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P032761/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 08/2022
Description The Blackwood Neighbourhood for Independent Living
Amount £12,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2024
Title IDEAL database 
Description Database of detailed data relating to energy use and environmental conditions in 250 households in the Edinburgh region. Households recruited into the study from approximately March 2017 to April 2018. Demographic, attitudinal and some building data. Detailed time series on ambient temperature, humidity, water pipe temperatures, gas use and electricity use. In about 30 households, individual appliance electrical data (for up to 9 appliances), temperature series for individual radiator flow and return, and more temperature sensors associated with particular activities. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet 
Description Article for magazine supplement on reducing carbon emissions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We contributed to a supplement to New Statesman entitled Reduce the Carbon, published in October 2015. This articulated in lay terms the potential that demand reduction in the domestic sector can play in the overall energy system, with respect to cost, security and carbon emissions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description DataFest18 Smart Energy GB 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a fringe event at the DataFest in Edinburgh at which we talked about about smart meter data and the IDEAL project. The theme of the event was around some of the opportunities that smart energy data presents for innovation in areas such as sustainability and healthcare.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018