Evaluation of user engagement in smart local energy system projects in the UK

Authors: Rajat Gupta and Sahar Zahiri

Published in:  Energy Evaluation Europe Conference, London, June 2020 https://energy-evaluation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/eee2020-paper-rajat-gupta-abstract77.pdf

Date Published: 1/7/2020


Smart local energy systems (SLES) can intelligently and locally link energy supply, storage and use, and power, heating and transport, in ways that can dramatically improve efficiency. However, successful deployment of SLES is contingent upon user engagement. Currently users of energy have low levels of trust in utilities and rarely engage in energy markets. This paper adopts a meta-study approach to investigate user engagement and its evaluation in SLES initiatives undertaken in the UK over the last 10 years. An extensive review of literature identified 122 SLES projects that received some form of funding, deployed multiple vectors and had an element of ‘smartness’ to them that included innovative use of data, digitalisation or innovative energy management systems. Meta-data analysis revealed that more than 52% of SLES projects were undertaken in Southern England and Scotland where grid constraints are prevalent. While evidence of user engagement was available in 41 SLES initiatives, user engagement was evaluated in only 36 projects. Five user engagement pathways were identified, including informing (e.g. media, social media), communicating (e.g. workshop, fair), involving (e.g. consultation), empowering (e.g. sharing of energy) and through technical means (e.g. online dashboards). Evaluation methods included questionnaire surveys, interviews, focus groups and monitoring. Overall, there was lack of longitudinal engagement and evaluation to capture ‘user journey’ as SLES projects developed over time, possibly due to project time-scales, limited budget and expertise. Since only 30% of the SLES projects provided evidence of user engagement and its evaluation, and these were concentrated in a limited number of geographical locations, it is vital that the next generation of SLES initiatives are multi-actor, including local actors such as community energy groups as intermediaries, local authorities as policy-makers and academic institutions as independent evaluators, to stimulate longitudinal engagement and evaluation.

Insights for EnergyREV:

Only 30% of the SLES projects undertaken over the last 10 years provided evidence of longitudinal user engagement and evaluation. To stimulate longitudinal user engagement and evaluation, the next generation of SLES initiatives need to be multi-actor, including community energy groups as intermediaries, local authorities as policy-makers and academic institutions as independent evaluators to enhance moving towards more prosperous and resilient communities.