'Smarter' homes?: a netnographic exploration of low carbon living

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Geography and Sustainable Development

Abstract

With growing concerns about climate change and energy security, how we use energy in the UK is receiving more attention than ever before. The way in which we use energy in our homes has been at the forefront of this attention (Lovell 2004) given recent high-profile recognition that it constitutes 24% of carbon emissions in the UK (Stern 2006). There have therefore been many attempts to try and reduce the amount of energy used in our homes, for instance, through the introduction of domestic energy-efficiency infrastructure, technology and appliances (Hand et al., 2007).

The desire to make our homes as efficient as possible and reduce the amount of carbon used per home has resulted in the UK government, like many other governments around the world, developing a low carbon strategy. Low carbon is a relatively new term used to describe activities that have a minimal output of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, and governments have developed sophisticated policies to deliver new low carbon economies (While et al., 2010). Accordingly, low carbon housing is that which has a minimal output of carbon dioxide and the term is used to describe a wide range of housing types, for instance, those which meet or exceed specific environmental standards (e.g. UK Code for Sustainable Homes), for example passiv houses.

However, recent research indicates that although the energy efficiency of homes has risen steadily over the last 30 years, there has not been a reduction in domestic energy consumption (McManus et al., 2010, Steg & Vlek 2009). So, for example, despite the installation of technology like loft and cavity wall insulation and low-energy appliances, households are using ever more energy. In addition, research has demonstrated that occupants of low carbon homes often find methods to bypass low carbon solutions (e.g. installing radiators or removing devices which impeed the flow of hot water in the shower) in order to prevent the curtailment of their activities (Gill et al., 2010). This phenomena is called the 'rebound effect' where any savings made in energy use are less than the expected savings because householders adapt their behaviour.

As such, it has been argued that the focus of funding and research should not simply rest on developing more 'technological' solutions to energy efficiency, but instead, that more resources should be directed towards understanding why this rebound effect occurs by exploring the behaviours or experiences of householders who live in low carbon homes. To do so, this project will work with 50 households who live in low carbon homes across 5 fieldwork sites (3 in the UK, 2 in the Netherlands).

A range of research methods will be used. Firstly, data collected by the developers of these sites about the performance of the housing and satisfaction of the householders will be collected and compared. The second element of the project will be online. Householders will be asked to take photographs and keep an online journal for three weeks (uploading the photographs into the journal). The photographs and written entries will capture everyday household life and the practices which they think use energy. During this period, householders will also be invited to participate in an online discussion forum with other householders in the project to discuss their experiences of project participation, compare photo-journal content and, consider the differences in energy demand and consumption.

By collaborating with other academics, housing professionals, and policy makers in this project through mechanisms such as seminars and a placement, the intention is to identify where future strategy on building technology and associated household practices might be directed, and propose ways in which these may be implemented.

Planned Impact

There will be short-term (during the award), medium-term (up to one year following the award), and long-term (one year following and beyond) impacts from this project. Integral to the project are a number of opportunities which will ensure that beneficiaries (the general public; the private sector (e.g. energy efficiency technology businesses, architecture firms etc); and the public and third sectors (e.g. housing associations and national governments)) experience the full advantage of the research.

In the short to medium term, the comparative nature of the work (UK and the Netherlands) will be of use to national governments interested in increasing the effectiveness of public services and policy by identifying which forms of LC infrastructure and technology are most appropriate for housing initiatives (see RO3 in case for support). Moreover, public policy initiatives have particular consequences for the housing industry at the design (architects, and planners), development (housing associations, private home builders), and build (trades and crafts men) stages. Hence there is the potential in the longer-term, to inform practitioners and professional practice. This will contribute to homes being more efficient (reducing rebound), cheaper to run and warmer, ultimately improving quality of life.

Collaboration with other organisations (OTB, BRE, 'owners or developers' of fieldwork sites) will be critical to the success of the project and these relationships will be nurtured. In addition to the methods of communication and engagement outlined (see pathways to impact), the placement with OTB will ensure an international dimension to the project and resulting impact. Work with seminar speakers, both through the seminars but also in the development of the edited book, will provide the opportunity to bring together academics, policy-makers and practitioners to facilitate new collaborations. Together these activities will help to realise the aim, in the medium-term, of developing a network of individuals and organisations that will allow the submission of a medium scale grant proposal to a RCUK funding body.

Visual, electronic, and paper based engagement strategies exist for all user groups. In the short-term, a dedicated website will be constructed with relevant project information, seminar/event information and appropriate web links. Both an audio and video based podcast of each seminar will be downloadable from the website. This approach is essential in order to reach those representatives who are not able to attend the events. A further feature of the website will be the integration of facebook and twitter accounts, social media which will enhance participation. Relevant public, commercial and third sector organisations will be invited to register for password protected access to all the papers given at the seminars. A JISC email discussion list in addition to the academic outputs will ensure that the project makes a long term contribution to the field of low carbon living beyond the lifetime of the award. An application to host a Festival of Social Science (FoSS) Event in year 2 to showcase the netnographic method will also be submitted. In this FoSS application I will specifically target teenagers (via a local school), often the most proficient in using social media, and encourage them to develop their own netnographic project in a two-day event.

At each event information will be collected from participants (e.g. using questionnaires) to aid the process of evaluation. In addition, quantitative metrics employed will measure: the number of twitter mentions, re-tweets and followers; number of facebook followers; number of website hits (including information about the number and type of materials downloaded e.g. seminar presentations). Together, such measures will enable evaluation of how the short-term impacts have been delivered during the project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I have developed two new strands of research:

1) Prosumption - this term was coined by Alvin Toffler in the 1980's to characterize the changing relationship between production and consumption. It has gained recent attention to conceptualize phenomena such as user generated content and DIY activities, however, I have increasingly been exploring this in relation to domestic low carbon activities. For instance, might the installation and use of domestic micro renewables be thought of as prosumption? If so, is prosumption a useful theoretical device to explain such developments? How might prosumption also be useful to explain efficiency improvements which involve the householder taking more of a role in managing energy demand? Hence prosumption is an interesting idea for me, and one I got some small funding to explore (see funding - Carnegie Trust). I am currently preparing a bid to Leverhulme for a more substantial piece of work in this area. However, this idea of prosumption does apply to my ES/K009516/1 work in the sense that I have been able to develop my thinking on prosumption through this project. I hope to be able to explore how engagement in production might influence or change the nature of consumption in relation to energy demand.

2) Domestic exterior lights - is a second new area for me. Lighting is the largest demand of electricity in UK homes, yet when one looks at the data, it is often only interior lighting which is considered. With a colleague from Biology, I have been developing an idea around exterior domestic lights. These lights are on the outside of homes and hence the householder pays for their use, however, the electricity demand they create is not the target of interventions (e.g. switching off lights campaigns typically target rooms not in use (i.e. interior lights)). Yet we hypothesise that exterior domestic lights are more powerful and either left on all night, or are triggered frequently, hence there may be important implications in terms of contribution to household energy consumption. We worked with an undergraduate student who was funded via the Society of Biology to do a summer internship with us. We undertook a pilot study where I used a questionnaire with householders to address some of the social science behind the use of exterior domestic lights (finding out about motivations and patterns of use). This is an area I will also be addressing via the ES/K009516/1 project and one which I hope to get further funding.

My work, and contributions to thinking about sustainable housing has also been recognized in so far as I have recently become a co-director at the Centre for Housing Research (CHR) at St Andrews. I came onboard in the Summer of 2014 and this is an exciting prospect for me. With the other co-director, I manage the research center which has some 20 staff (including researchers and associates) and a diversity of research projects. This has involved the development of new leadership skills, and skills around the financial planning and administration of a research center. We have re-focused the work of CHR, and there is now a much stronger focus on two strategic themes of 'homes, families and communities' and 'places, policies and practices'. My work on sustainable housing will feature in both of those themes and this is an area we hope to grow with a Research Assistant starting in this area in 2014/5.
Exploitation Route In relation to box 1 above:

1) Prosumption - this is really quite theoretical so findings will be of most interest to academics. However, I think that if the relationship between production and consumption in relation to energy is changing, and that greater involvement in production might make householders think differently about consumption, then that may have wider influences. For instance, practice and policy communities may potentially view energy prosumption as a type of intervention to reduce energy demand.

2) Exterior domestic lighting. This will be of interest to those with a concern in reducing electricity use in UK homes - policy and practice communities. It will also potentially be of interest to organisations such as the police who give advice on lights in relation to security, to safety organisations who are concerned with trips/falls in dark areas, and to retailers/installers of lights.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment,Retail

 
Description No impacts as yet. Fieldwork is ongoing hence findings have not been reported
 
Description Carnegie Trust Small Grants
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 31680 
Organisation Carnegie Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 01/2014 
End 08/2014
 
Description International Fee Waiver for PhD studentship, University of St Andrews
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of St Andrews 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2018
 
Description Scottish Graduate School collaborative PhD funding
Amount £63,000 (GBP)
Organisation Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2019
 
Description University of St Andrews PhD studentship - 7th Century Competition
Amount £43,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of St Andrews 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 09/2014 
End 08/2017
 
Description Critical Urbanism Blog 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is a collective blog. I am theme editor of sustainability which means I am responsible for recruiting and managing submissions on this topic
Collaborator Contribution Developing the blog and inviting contributors to comment on the other themes
Impact This initiative brings together a number of scholars from across the UK on a shared blog. It is multi-disciplinary and involves those from sociology, geography, planning, built environment studies. It will also involve those beyond the academy. It is only in its infancy but will grow with the addition of each new contributor.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Critical Urbanism Blog 
Organisation University of St Andrews
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is a collective blog. I am theme editor of sustainability which means I am responsible for recruiting and managing submissions on this topic
Collaborator Contribution Developing the blog and inviting contributors to comment on the other themes
Impact This initiative brings together a number of scholars from across the UK on a shared blog. It is multi-disciplinary and involves those from sociology, geography, planning, built environment studies. It will also involve those beyond the academy. It is only in its infancy but will grow with the addition of each new contributor.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Critical Urbanism Blog 
Organisation University of Stirling
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is a collective blog. I am theme editor of sustainability which means I am responsible for recruiting and managing submissions on this topic
Collaborator Contribution Developing the blog and inviting contributors to comment on the other themes
Impact This initiative brings together a number of scholars from across the UK on a shared blog. It is multi-disciplinary and involves those from sociology, geography, planning, built environment studies. It will also involve those beyond the academy. It is only in its infancy but will grow with the addition of each new contributor.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Digital Methods Workshop 
Organisation Lancaster University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We hosted a two day interdisciplinary workshop for invited participants on the topic of digital methods
Collaborator Contribution They participated by giving presentations
Impact Outputs are blog posts - forthcoming Outcomes are a working group to develop a paper for publication
Start Year 2016
 
Description Digital Methods Workshop 
Organisation National Energy Action
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We hosted a two day interdisciplinary workshop for invited participants on the topic of digital methods
Collaborator Contribution They participated by giving presentations
Impact Outputs are blog posts - forthcoming Outcomes are a working group to develop a paper for publication
Start Year 2016
 
Description Digital Methods Workshop 
Organisation Umea University
Country Sweden, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We hosted a two day interdisciplinary workshop for invited participants on the topic of digital methods
Collaborator Contribution They participated by giving presentations
Impact Outputs are blog posts - forthcoming Outcomes are a working group to develop a paper for publication
Start Year 2016
 
Description Digital Methods Workshop 
Organisation University of Tilburg
Country Netherlands, Kingdom of the 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We hosted a two day interdisciplinary workshop for invited participants on the topic of digital methods
Collaborator Contribution They participated by giving presentations
Impact Outputs are blog posts - forthcoming Outcomes are a working group to develop a paper for publication
Start Year 2016
 
Description Energy efficiency special issue 
Organisation Delft University of Technology (TU Delft)
Country Netherlands, Kingdom of the 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I wrote a paper
Collaborator Contribution They organised the special issue
Impact I was invited to participate in a special issue of a journal. The special issue was organised by Prof. Henk Visscher who is my Delft mentor. The paper I provided is: Reid, L (2014) Deal or no deal?: assessing the UK's new green deal. Open House International 29: 2.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Chaired housing conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I chaired a conference for Holyrood Magazine about housing and the Private Rented Sector
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Contribution of written evidence to Scottish Government Parliament 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I gave written evidence to the Scottish Government's Energy, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on the Draft Climate Change Plan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/103917.aspx
 
Description Meeting with Ganka Mueller Scottish Government 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Meeting with housing building standards analysts to discuss my ESRC project, potentially identify case study sites and fr me to better understand their ongoing work/priorities

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description School Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 160 Fife Higher Geography school pupils and their teachers visited St Andrews to hear about my research (on housing) and how it relates to geography - and their curriculum. The idea behind the event was to create interest in subject area, develop collaboration between St Andrews Uni and the Schools, and teach pupils about exciting developments in the subject
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Scottish Government Climate Change Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I gave a seminar as part of the Scottish Government Climate Change Seminar series on our work around prosumption and renewable energy generation in Scotland. Audience was primarily policymakers/researchers within the Scottish Government.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Teacher visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact School teachers from 18 Schools in Fife attended a workshop about research methods to help inform their teaching in the Higher Geography Assessment. I talked about online methods. Collected evaluation forms where teachers recorded how the workshop will change their teaching - notably by new methods they can teach, and also the importance of talking to the pupils about ethics (which may get them extra points in the assessment)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Visit to Chinese Academy of Social Science as part of a Royal Society of Edinburgh Initiative 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact I participated in discussions and also provided a presentation. This led to questions at the time, but also email exchanges afterwards, where I sent information to CASS colleagues. We are awaiting details of a funding call, but should this happen, we will be applying for funding to continue this collaboration.

CASS colleagues asked for further information and literature.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014