Oxford Martin School project leads to £8.7m UKRI investment in energy demand observatory

10 March 2023

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The new Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL) will scale the use of household energy data to understand how, why, and when domestic activity is impacting energy demand and associated carbon emissions.

The Oxford Martin Initiative on Reconfiguring Energy Needs, Equity and Wellbeing (ReNEW), funded as part of the Oxford Martin School’s short-term Building Back Better grants during the height of the pandemic has received major UKRI investment to scale up and develop a national energy observatory.

ReNEW worked with partners and large datasets to identify tipping points in energy use that were been exposed by the pandemic with the aim of developing strategies to drive down energy demand from households, reduce energy use, energy bills and shift society towards more equitable and sustainable living.

The new £8.7m programme is a collaboration with University College London, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and others building on the work ReNEW started. Oxford is taking an interdisciplinary lead on instrumentation, analysis and qualitative research, with involvement from the Department of Engineering Science and the Environmental Change Institute.

EDOL will develop a range of innovative methods – including innovations emerging around artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) - for monitoring not only the energy consumed by different appliances, but also the different energy-using activities that make up daily life at home.

Dr Phil Grünewald, Co-I and Technical Research Lead of EDOL, said, “EDOL will raise evidence-based policy making to a new level, by providing a scientifically rigorous demand observatory. This collaboration will be unique in providing a detailed, longitudinal resource of UK domestic energy use which will be available to scientists, industry, and policy-makers. The research will be dynamic, able to respond to a fast-moving technological and policy landscape, and will enable us to propose cost-effective smart data solutions and innovation in real-time and at scale.”

EDOL will consist of three elements:

1. An ‘Observatory’ of 2000 representative UK households equipped with sensors to record the energy used by occupants, their appliances, and their behaviours. The anonymised data will then be analysed by researchers to better understand patterns of energy demand in our homes.

2. ‘Forensic’ analyses of sub-samples of homes that have novel or lesser-known forms of energy demand (for instance, smart charging of electric vehicles). This could include detailed surveys, interviews, and in-depth monitoring.

3. ‘Field laboratories’ of 100-200 households in which policies, technologies, business models, and other interventions can be tried out and compared to relevant control groups in the Observatory. This will allow the researchers to answer novel questions, such as: 'How flexible is the time when people choose to charge their electric vehicles?', or 'Does installing a heat pump have unintended consequences such as increased tumble drying of clothes due to lower radiator temperatures?'

Professor Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin School, said, “It’s a huge credit to the team that they have been able to leverage their ReNEW project into this significant new interdisciplinary energy laboratory. We awarded our rapid-response grants at the height of the pandemic in the belief that there were immediate needs where a small short term investment could have a big long term impact – this team has delivered in admirable fashion.”