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News about the distributed energy market, written by leading independent experts

Energy Use in the Home:“Shifting patterns of behaviour & energy time use attached to the home”

People’s behaviour in the home has changed drastically over the past fifty years or so. Developments in domestic technology,  created to ‘save time’ (although it has been found that these rarely reduce women’s unpaid working time - and have paradoxically increased their domestic labour (Bittman, et al, 2004))  have not only changed how we use energy in our homes, but the ubiquity of these technologies has shaped the patterns and practices of  hygiene, comfort and convenience linked to our homes. Our domestic appliance electricity consumption has increased 144% since the 1970’s, with energy use associated with cooking in the home being the only form of domestic energy to have decreased – manly due to people eating out more (Wajcman, 2016:120)

So while the design of labour saving devices were initially directed toward saving time on individual domestic chores and tasks, these technologies, and the ways in which we interact with them, have increased our energy usage by changing the patterns, frequency and practices of how we live.  For example:

  • Expectations of comfort, cleanliness and convenience have altered drastically over the past few generations.
  • Washing machines allow us to do our laundry while multi-tasking, but the result is that we now do laundry more frequently than ever before – while working in fewer blue collar workplaces.
  • Power showers far exceed the water and energy consumption of a twice or thrice weekly bath – however long one might spend soaking in the tub (Wajcman, 2016).

 The potential of the shower to be viewed as efficient fits with our current preoccupation with ‘saving time’ and fast paced lives. The once or twice weekly bath (and daily wash), have now become (at the minimum) a daily shower, and with it, the idea of saving time and reducing energy – which people understand to be more convenient and economically efficient.

These changing patterns of our behaviour may impact on the prospect of encouraging the scheduling required within calibrating our energy consumption to when energy is locally available (as means to reduce costly energy tariffs). Despite the labour and time saving devices we all own, our disposable time has decreased. Rises in austerity mean that there are more double earners in the home, resulting in less time for domestic chores and/or leisure. Digital media and technology, while offering a certain freedom to communicate with others outside time/space boundaries, simultaneously brings with it stress factors associated with hyperconnectivty – and being accountable & accessible to others at all time. Time is not something that sits around waiting to be found, it is not an abstract entity external to the individual, but is instead a reflection of social routines and socially constructed practices of meals, sleep, work, and other social relations. The difficulty to fit domestic tasks into busy lives, has not resulted in drastically less housework, but in more pressured and stressful lives – and to what some refer to as ‘time squeeze’ (Southerton, 2003).

The using of, or calibration to, ‘available energy’ carries a risk of increasing problems of scheduling – exacerbating the sense of harried-ness, in an ever increasing ‘rushed’ society. The idea of ‘availability’ as legitimate, and sustaining specific forms of consumption is illuminating, however, it may underestimate the myriad pressures experienced by those most responsible for energy consumption related to domestic forms of labour. Given that women’s labour still accounts for two-thirds of total time devolved (Kan, Sullivan, & Gershuny, 2011) (see also Bryson, 2007; Davies, 1990; Davies, 1996;Hochschild, 1997, 2012) – not including time spent on ‘project management’ or overseeing other household members’ chores, the added pressure that may be associated with further scheduling of tasks, may ultimately, and unfairly fall on women in the home.

The micro politics of social behaviour are very much embedded in the macro structures of social norms and cultures – and our current western (and networked) societies are becoming increasingly faster and harried. Promoting changes to our energy use, or calibrating that use to when energy is available, should be sympathetic to the fast paced societies and pressures associated with time. It is about understanding the macro structures of cultural norms of behaviour that impact on the micro (social interactions of everyday life).

Understanding and monitoring shifts in behaviour

Typically, shifts and changes of behaviour have been noted to happen gradually over generations, sometimes centuries (Elias, 1998, 2000), and attempting to shift patterns of behaviour in short time frames can be difficult. Specific values and intention does not necessarily equate with adopting specific behavioural change.  However, perhaps part of the reason we have understood these changes as occurring over long periods of time, is the time factor previously involved in gathering and evaluating the necessary data.

Gathering data required to understand patterns of behaviour within the home associated to energy use is vital to considering ways in which households can make changes, and doing do via remote devices can provide data of this kind in a condensed time scale – perhaps allowing for, and promoting future changes to occur over a shorter time frame.

Digital dashboards, household monitors, smart meters and the introduction of remote use of energy supply/consumption have the ability to lift pressures from household members around reflected time use – through allowing individuals to monitor their own time/energy – and associated behaviour.  The data emerging from such technologies, on a large scale, across all social borders, may also have the ability of a democratising effect, by allowing scientists and researchers – and policy makers an improved awareness to how people across various economic and social backgrounds consume energy within their domestic environments. Smart metering and household monitors may also have the ability to break down barriers between private/public knowledge sharing – by allowing consumers the right to share in that knowledge.

There are ethical considerations around how consumers perceive privacy when digitally mediated, and who has overall control of both energy supply and data ownership. However, digital monitoring in itself is neither entirely fully private, nor entirely fully public. It is the way in which human beings employ the endless possibilities which it brings that determines its impact on society.


Bittman, M., Rice, J. M., & Wajcman, J. (2004). Appliances and their impact: the ownership of domestic technology and time spent on household work. The British Journal of Sociology, 55(3), 401–423.

Bryson, V. (2007). Gender and the Politics of Time: feminist Theory and Contemporary Debates. Bristol: Polity Press.

Davies, K. (1990). Women, Time and the Weaving of the Strands of Everyday Life. Aldershot: Avebury.

Davies, K. (1996). CAPTURING WOMEN’S LIVES A Discussion of Time and Methodological Issues. Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 19(6), 579–588.

Elias, N. (1998). On the concept of the everyday life. In J. Goudsblom & S. Mennell (Eds.), The Norbert Elias Reader (pp. 166–168). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Elias, N. (2000). The Civilising Process. (E. Dunning, J. Goudsblom, & S. Mennell, Eds., E. Jephcott., Trans.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Hochschild, A. (1997). The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home & Home Becomes Work. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Hochschild, A. (2012). The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home (Revised edition). Penguin Books.

Kan, M. Y., Sullivan, O., & Gershuny, J. (2011). Gender Convergence in Domestic Work: Discerning the Effects of Interactional and Institutional Barriers from Large-scale Data. Sociology, 45(2), 234–251.

Southerton, D. (2003). `Squeezing Time’ Allocating Practices, Coordinating Networks and Scheduling Society. Time & Society, 12(1), 5–25.

Wajcman, J. (2016). Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.

Maggie Laidlow is an associate consultant at Veitch Cooper


Scotland’s Energy Strategy – the Heat’s On

The Scottish Government’s draft Energy Strategy tells a story that Scotland should be proud of. When it comes to renewable generation Scotland is well ahead of the rest of GB and has been out-stripping its own targets in many areas. It’s also well placed to lead the next wave of policy thinking and delivery on the journey to a low carbon future, including on heat.

When thinking about heat one of the critical policies that often gets overlooked by Westminster policy makers is energy efficiency. But the Scottish Government have it rightly centre stage in their strategy, building on the investment they have made over recent years and their decision to make it a national infrastructure priority.

Another strength of the Scottish Government’s strategy is that it remains open minded about an enduring role for gas and for the investment that has already been made in the networks. It acknowledges the potential role for hydrogen – initially as part of a mix but ultimately potentially on its own. Again, the Scottish Government has been supporting trials which are vital in this new area, and is continuing to press for CCS. That said it perhaps underplays the other opportunities for unconventional gas including biogas, which is already being fed into the system but where more could be done.

The strategy acknowledges the value of district heating in the right location – initially using gas (but with the potential to change to other sources in future). The Scottish Government has kicked off an important debate about the need for regulation of district heating and how it might be funded.

Finally heat pumps get a mention (along with an acknowledgment of the significant impact on the electricity system) as do other new technologies including deep geothermal and energy from waste.

What’s missing from this debate – as in many of the discussions around decarbonisation of heat – is a real consumer perspective. There’s an acknowledgment that hydrogen could deliver the same sort of instant comfort that gas does now – and which consumers value – but little mention of the need to understand and improve the consumer experience of the different solutions.

In the Fintry project where FDT are installing heat pumps and also looking at use of electric storage heating there is a consumer emphasis. Temperatures are being monitored to understand how quickly homes heat up and cool down depending on the type of property, supported by consumer surveys. But more learning is needed in this area including looking at how to modernise electric storage heating. If storage heating could deliver a better customer experience while at the same time providing flexibility to the system, then it could play an important role going forward.

The Scottish Government envisage an important role for local authorities and cities in developing the roadmap for heat which makes sense given that the right answer will vary by geography and customer demographic. But there remains an important role for the centre in supporting research and development and sharing learning.

Finally, the one other area that the Scottish Government are emphasising but which is neglected at a UK level is community energy. The Scottish Government recognise the value in communities working to balance local energy involving renewables, storage and local demand – with wider benefits in terms of economic regeneration for example. They are providing significant funding for such projects and have also now set targets around the proportion of new generation which is shared ownership.

Of course, there is much more to be worked through but there is a clear ambition here to continue to build on the success of Scotland’s historic oil and gas industries, to continue the strong growth that been seen in renewables and to move on tackle the next challenges around transport and heat. It sets a high benchmark for Westminster which is due to publish its own Emissions Reduction Plan shortly.

Maxine Frerk is an associate consultant at Veitch Cooper


The Renewable Heat Incentive: A reformed and refocused scheme

Since its inception in 2008 the RHI has had a faltering start with delays and changes causing uncertainty for government an more importantly investors. When Amber Rudd was appointed Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate change after the  election last year she started work right away on the Comprehensive Spending Review and its effect on key policies such as the RHI. Following a long summer of lobbying and negotiations the spending allocation for the RHI was set through until 2021 and for the first time long term certainty for the incentive was in place. The Minister also committed to a substantial reform of the scheme to see it perform better through to 2021. This commitment resulted in a consultation which has just closed and will soon give a much clearer path to allow more confidence in renewable heat system investments for the next few years. We will start to have confirmation of the outcomes of the consultation in May and June with full implementation in time for April 2017. As an "industry insider" I can confidently predict that the changes will be very positive for the UK renewable industry and in particular for those seeking to fund large projects. 


Where Next for UK Renewable Investments?

Onshore wind is all but dead, large scale solar PV has also had its day in the sun (sorry), biomass is seeing it's Renewable Heat Incentive funding cut every quarter so what is next? The Feed In Tarrif and the RHI were intended to increase third party investment in low and zero carbon technologies and to an extent they have succeeded but almost inevitably a boom and bust market has been created. So it would be tempting to ask, "where is the next cash cow?" but if the UK is to meet it's legally binding obligations this cannot continue, a more stable market must be built and the government is acutely of this fact. With the upcoming reforms to the RHI a less dash for cash environment will be created and beyond 2021 Amber Rudd has committed her officials to "move away from start stop incentives towards a policy driven environment". What this means is that the question is not "where's the next cash cow?" but rather "how do we utilise the current incentives to build long term and sustainable investment vehicles?"

Chris Davidson is an associate consultant at Veitch Cooper


Demand Side Management - Addressing a new "Trilemma"

The "Energy Trilemma" namely, Security , Affordability and De-carbonisation of the current UK energy system has entered everyday language and indeed has been useful in highlighting the challenges and failures of recent energy policy by successive UK governments.

However many commentators still pursue old "centralist" thinking in offering solutions which rely on centralized energy provision invariably based on large capital heavy projects such as carbon capture, grid energy storage and district heating etc.

The potential for Demand Side Management and "smart demand" whilst not entirely ignored, is quite often the poor relation when it comes to recognition of potential solutions especially in the short to medium timescale required to address the pressing issues identified as the Trilemma.

To quote a recent UK Energy Research Council publication "Insights on Energy Demand" –September 2014.

"There has been a fundamental reorganization of energy policy in recent years including a departure from free-market principles on the supply side (e.g. Electricity Market Reform) and an intensified reliance on the market to deliver outcomes on the demand side (e.g. Green Deal).

Whilst this recognition of demand side as a solution is welcome, there is still a danger that "centralist thinking" predominates and demand reduction becomes the focus for energy policy.

Perhaps a Demand Side Management "Trilemma" is required to facilitate structured thinking and policy initiatives to encourage progress in this area. There are three existing energy market "drivers" which exist in various sectors of UK energy policy, which everyone will recognize, and are entirely aligned with the need to develop "Demand Side Management" solutions and more importantly "joined up policy" in this area.

  • 1. Smart Grid-smart meter roll-out is underway but nobody is entirely sure how and what it will deliver to the benefit of supplies and customers.
  • 2. Innovation-Energy network operators have a license obligation to introduce innovation in to their networks (comments above apply again).
  • 3. Competition-need to introduce "true competition" and new market models e.g. Demand aggregator businesses?

There is nothing better than a couple of figures which highlight the potential for the demand side to play a significant part in addressing the underlying need (which has always existed) to balance energy supply with demand.

  • 1. Domestic electric water heating contributes 25% to current UK peak demand - smart?
  • 2. There is 16GW of domestic storage heating on the UK electric grid - smart?

Watch out for future updates

Nigel Ellis is a consultant at Dunelm Energy, a Scottish based company that provides advice, assistance and connections to companies and individuals involved in the disruptive changes in the Energy Industry.