Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences

Abstract

Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Drawing on areas of particular strength within the UK social sciences, the energy biographies project developed an innovative approach to investigating energy transitions in everyday life. Methodological innovation was a key part of our work (see under 'Research Tools and Methods' for details of our-up-to-date, interactive (and hence engaging) digital, multi-modal and qualitative longitudinal/temporal methods).

Our energy biographies methods enabled participants to reflect on the invisible, dynamic ways in which they use energy in everyday life across a range of settings (home, work, travel) and in their local communities where demand reduction interventions are in place. Our findings therefore suggest that these methods make it possible to bring into the open a wider range of important issues to which energy researchers have paid insufficient attention in their efforts to expand research and theorising to explain demand trajectories. Such issues include the usually hidden kinds of emotional investments that we make in everyday objects that use energy (washing machines, cars), everyday practices (driving or cycling to work) and the material infrastuctures that provide us with our electricity supplies (see our article published in the journal 'Environmental Values').

Our research approach also made it possible to access people's stories about the kinds of changes they experience across their own lifecourse. Analysis of such energy biographies stories has led to some of our publicly reported findings in the journal 'Science, Technology and Human Values'. These findings suggest that the assumption that disruptive transitions in people's lives (such as birth of a child, or moving house) may offer opportunities to change extensively how they use energy may be too optimistic. They point instead to the importance of further temporal and cultural identity dynamics relating, for example, to shared narrative genres, that are involved in creating or obstructing opportunities for change. Changes in energy use and demand are unlikely to be possible if they create concerns for people about their everyday dependencies on energy and a resultant sense of being unable to live out a worthwhile life (e.g. because they cannot keep alive valued identities and desires or sustain their relationships with significant others).

Overall, our research suggests that energy researchers could benefit more from investigating people as complexly psychological and social subjects. This 'psychosocial' project framing brings out of our data a multiplicity of additional issues, such as having regard for the effort involved when people are seeking to work out what is the best thing to do; how to resolve moral tensions over long-established and/or contemporary values; how difficult it can be to think about a longer-term future based on contemporary ideals of what counts as a life worth living. In our study, we have also reported on the possibilities opened up for critically investigating established guidance for changing energy behaviours and practices, by studying what we have called the 'emotional labour of meaning making' (for a more detailed account of our findings see the full end of grant report at http://energybiographies.org/our-work/our-findings/reports/).

More broadly, we have started to put in place a platform of ideas, analysis and research resources that will complement ones that are already well established in multi-disciplinary academic and policy research that is currently focussed on generating understanding of how it might be possible to transform the UK's whole energy system. As such, our work is making a specific contribution to efforts towards meeting the UK's international obligations in reducing carbon emissions. It is also part of contemporary and futures-oriented work with and for the public at devolved and national levels, taking into account a wide range of interrelated environmental and societal problems.

Our platform serves as a means of thickening and diversifying the space of contemporary social research on energy consumption so that demand trajectories can be understood as involving more or less meaningful forms of engagement with how energy is used and its relationship with other environmental problems, that can become invested with deep and complex emotions. This is an important step if we are to be able appreciate the wider cultural affordances of our psychosocial investments in energy and ways of living with and through difficult personal and societal transitions. Approaching issues around energy consumption from this direction changes our understanding of how particular energy using practices affect identity and enrich lives worth living. Psychosocial dimensions of practice can provide the resources for re-imagining energy futures through the everyday, and in particular, for imagining alternative visions of convenience and comfort that are decoupled from overconsumption.
Exploitation Route The Energy Biographies study has made substantial progress in establishing a distinctive programme of work with significant potential to complement the whole systems change perspective that is currently leading the direction of UK energy research. Further work could be done to develop the implications of understandings produced by Energy Biographies of the dynamics of everyday energy use for wider energy systems change. The following continuity activities may assist with this: (i) 2015-2016 impact activities involved organising a knowledge sharing workshop early in 2016 with the UK-wide Carbon conversations project (www.carbonconversations.org; www.surefoot-effect.com). This project is now an open source resource for use in conducting public group work on how to enable people to contemplate difficult changes in their lives as society adapts to pressures exerted by initiatives to deal with climate change, environmental degradation and decarbonisation. (ii) Energy Biographies is now of the work of the Energy Systems Research Institute (ESRI) at Cardiff University and its flagship Flexis research project (24 million, WEFO funded, 2016-21) that involves engineering research in Cardiff and an integrated programme of social sciences research by the Cardiff energy biographies research team. A breaking social sciences and energy topic that is part of the work of Flexis arose directly from the work of the energy biographies team (Groves at al, 2016), and concerns the implications of energy biographies work (methods development and findings) within the fields of responsible innovation and technology system assessment. This work is being taken forward on an international footing through a planned joint initiative with a science and technology studies research group at Delft University (Response) that has a strong energy social science track record and leads in European RRI research. (iii) Fair Futures Programme, Welsh Government. A successful tender was made in February 2018 for a funded collaborative project under this programme to enable members of the Energy Biographies team, who are now working as part of Flexis, to develop a smart living demonstrator by working in wider partnerships (eg with the Energy Systems Catapult).
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://energybiographies.org/our-work/our-findings/reports/
 
Description The findings from this project, as disseminated in our academic publications and end of grant synthesis report, have been shared with non-academic partners at events that we have jointly attended and/or organized. Our collaborating partners included the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) and Carbon Conversations (CC) initiative. Following a workshop between the Energy Biographies (EBs) team and the Carbon Conversations initiative held in Cardiff, January 2016, Carbon Conversations stated in writing that a number of our important findings confirmed prior knowledge for them and that they had learned this directly from the encounters we provided for them with our energy biographies' data analytic work. Similarly, The Climate Psychology Alliance has been influenced by our work on narratives of energy use and identity transitions, and in June 2016 organised their own event on recovery narratives to reflect on insights from our published analyses. A shared understanding and sense of purpose has been built throughout the engagement events in which Energy Biographies, Carbon Conversations, and the Climate Psychology Alliance teams participated. This culminated in a series of email exchanges after our workshop in Cardiff January 2016, where the Carbon Conversations lead expressed an explicit interest in continuing to work with us to develop more flexible means of delivering their own approach, including their specific workshop materials, and to enable members of public to engage more successfully with energy consumption/carbon reduction initiatives/interventions. Subsequently, we have learned that the Carbon Conversations resources have been made open access, so our collaboration was successful from the Carbon Conversations perspective. Accordingly, we had no reason to continue any direct collaboration with this initial partner organisation. Yet we have continued to engage with other partners who have expressed an interest in developing more research informed ways of developing capabilities within communities. These emergent collaborations have resulted in large part from engaging further in partnership working as part of more recently funded projects (Flexis, Coastweb, Better Energy Futures). Accordingly, we intend to continue to pursue our interests more generally in ground-up activities among a broadly conceived public and with whom we can continue to mine ideas emerging about how to understand and re-energise efforts to effect meaningful change in the context of significant energy and environmental challenges (net zero, green growth, flooding, vulnerability and insecurity etc). In recent years, we have been doing this as part of our social science work programme within Flexis and, in particular, the smart living demonstrator on energy vulnerabilities and fuel poverty that we conducted 2018-19 with support from the Welsh Government (Department for Energy, Planning and Natural Resources) to collaborate with the Energy Systems Catapult and, subsequently, the Centre for Sustainable Energy. From April 2020, we will be working as the social science team within a new EPSRC project, and as part of a UK-wide engineering and energy policy collaboration (NEUPA). Here we will be able to leverage new pathways to impact by developing original knowledge about systems infrastructure change, to involve direct collaboration with organisations/agencies/companies now responsible for maintenance and upgrade of energy networks and other public utilities.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Title Bespoke Methods for Investigating 'Energy Biographies' 
Description As part of our innovative methodological approach (see also under key findings), we brought together a bespoke set of practical tools and methods suited to meeting our project aims. These were interactive, involved participants using multimodal digital tools, and were temporally organised. Our research participants were asked to engage in a number of face-to-face interviews conducted in their own homes, community settings and workplaces. Between interviews, they were asked to undertake activities such as using camera phones, watching film clips about technological change and "future homes", and sending us their own photographs on different occasions over one year (out of which the research team composed individual photo-narratives to help capture difficult to articulate patterns of energy use). Our particular interests in devising this carefully crafted set of methods was in developing new potentials for understanding what matters to people, but that may not be at all obvious to them, when they are faced with the demand to reduce or de-intensify their energy usage. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The methods used by the energy biographies team were of interest to other academic and policy research teams from the earliest days of the project, and at the launch of the ESRC/EPSRC Community Energies Initiative. The energy biographies website contained details of these methods throughout the period of study. They have subsequently been published as academic publications in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology (2015), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Data Collection (2018) and an edited volume on Risk and Methods (2019, Palgrave Macmillan). 
URL http://www.energybiographies.org
 
Description Coastweb 
Organisation Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Specialist qualitative social sciences work package exploring the values and meanings of saltmarsh and the coast more generally, and their contribution to well being.
Collaborator Contribution Plymouth Marine Laboratory provide the overall network support and are holders of the NERC Coastweb award.
Impact Two specialist academic publications have been prepared and submitted for peer review. These encapsulate findings arising from the work of the interdisciplinary social science team based in the School of Social science and Understanding Risk Group at Cardiff University. Talks were presented regularly by the team at network wide events of the overarching Valuing Nature programme (VNP) that had funded the whole Coastweb project. In January 2020, we shared with Natural Resources Wales key findings based on using the multimodal maps we had developed out of fieldwork activities to elucidate well being values of saltmarshes and changing intertidal estuaries. In January-February 2020, two exhibitions took place, one in London (RGS offices) one in Cardiff (civic venue). The contribution from the team's part within the overall project took the form of interactive multi-model maps, and these are proving of potential interest to NRW colleagues form possible use as part of their own public engagement activities.
Start Year 2016
 
Description FLEXIS collaboration 
Organisation Government of Wales
Department Welsh European Funding Office
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution FLEXIS (Flexible Integrated Energy Systems) collaboration was funded as an ERDF project - end date currently 2021. Delft University of Technology - our main international partners who have co-produce workshops with us over the last 3 years, and with whom we are seeking to submit a research proposal September 2020.
Collaborator Contribution Shared 5 year research programme from January 2016 with engineering colleagues in Cardiff University, Swansea University and University of South Wales. Total project budget £24 million.
Impact Multidisciplinary. Civil and mechanical engineering, electronics, environmental chemistry and sciences, social sciences.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Workshop - partnership development 
Organisation Open University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The energy biographies and understanding risk group at Cardiff University jointly organised an event held at the OU offices in Camden, North London, on "Contemporary life practices: Risk, Moralities and Psychosocial Research; June 11th , 2015
Collaborator Contribution This event emerged out of two earlier UKERC organised seminars involving both partners on individual complexity in energy use and climate change communication.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A Sense of Energy - A Public Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact discussion at the event and afterwards

led to policy briefing supplied to NGO


public groups have expressed their interest in replicating the exhibition idea for their own purposes


postgraduate student learning about methods innovation and research impact



schools that did not attend the exhibition's ecochampions workshop have invited the energy biographies team to give talks to their pupils
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Encounters with energy - A public meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact discussions involving community members and community research partners

discussions have led to a diaried further meeting on the theme of energy stories
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Exhibits presented at Energy on your Doorstep events, Caerau, Bridgend. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Exhibits presented and discussed at 2 Energy on your Doorstep events in February 2017, held in Caerau, Bridgend, South Glamorgan. Discussion of future district heating scheme for low income households.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Film of the 2014 Sense of Energy exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Extended engagement by permanent web presence of film of our collaborative exhibition (Cardiff, Goldsmiths, Keele, Sussex, Oxford Brookes)about local communities and their understandings of the changing energy landscape

This film of a creative arts-social science installation of a public-policy engagement exhibition extended the breadth of awareness and involvement with the original SENSE OF ENERGY exhibition that was held in two locations (Cardiff and London)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://energybiographies.org/our-work/exhibition-2/
 
Description PI attended round table with Nick Hurd (BEIS UK Energy and Climate Change Minister) round table on engaging the public with climate change and decarbonisation policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact PI attended round table in Feb 2017 with Nick Hurd and advisors (BEIS UK Energy and Climate Change Minister) round table on engaging the public with climate change and decarbonisation policy. In run up to development of new UK government Energy Strategy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Participation in HubNet colloquium on District Heating Networks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation on 1 March 2017 at Colloquium jointly organised by Cardiff University and the HubNet consortium. Purpose was to develop understanding in an area of significant lack (heat networks) of skills and awareness from customers in the UK. Sharing current practices in the district heating sector and how to address the barriers and innovation gaps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation and debate at Smart Living "Inside smart homes and workplaces" event 13-14th March 2017 organised by Welsh Government 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact PI presentation and contribution to debate at Smart Living "Inside smart homes and workplaces" event 13-14th March 2017 for policymakers organised by Welsh Government
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Press release - energy biographies reveal the challenges of changing our habits 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact still pending
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Project exhibits shown and discussed at an event organised by STEMETTES aimed at encouraging young women into STEM subjects 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Project exhibits shown and discussed at an event organised by STEMETTES in January 2017 aimed at encouraging young women into STEM subjects. This event also featured in a BBC news report.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-37639052
 
Description User Engagement Workshop (Cardiff University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion of shared knowledge and problem orientation between research group and non-government organisation, the latter with an interest in making practical use of our study findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://energybiographies.org