User Behaviour and Preferences

User Behaviour and Preferences

Why are user behaviour and preferences important for smart local energy systems?

This research aims to broaden knowledge and understanding of user engagement in smart local energy systems (SLES). Our research is increasing understanding of which users are involved, and how they are involved over time, within specific case study projects. This is critical since the success of smart local energy projects will depend, in part, on how well stakeholders are able to involve different kinds of users in the take-up of new, and probably unfamiliar, energy technologies and services in local places. Insights into the effectiveness of different methods of engagement, and how engagement is affected by response to external circumstances (e.g. COVID-19), will be delivered to support sustainable, smarter, more integrated local energy systems.

What are the EnergyREV team doing in this area?

We have two strands of work:

First, we are following specific UK case study demonstrators over time to investigate how user engagement changes and evolves in response to external events, pressures and learnings such as COVID-19. This involves conducting workshops and in-depth interviews with stakeholder representatives from specific projects and repeating these over time.

Second, we are conducting a large-scale national survey of public perceptions of SLES.

Both of these strands will help answer the following questions:

  • What methods are used by stakeholders to engage local people in smart energy projects?
  • How successful are these methods at involving local people over time?
  • What does ‘success’ mean in terms of engagement from the perspectives of different stakeholders and of local residents?
  • What is the broader appetite in society for a shift to a more localised and smart energy system in the UK?
  • Which institutions (e.g. councils, community groups, local businesses) are trusted by the public to lead local energy projects?
How is EnergyREV exploring these issues?

Our work involves:

  • Reviewing academic and non-academic literature
  • Designing and running interviews and workshops with local energy stakeholders to investigate who they are engaging with, how they are engaging and whether this changes over time
  • Designing and running a nationally representative survey to provide original data on public perceptions of smart local energy systems
  • Using qualitative software and statistical tools for data analysis

Iterative internal reviews and external peer-reviews will be secured to provide constructive feedback to ensure the robustness of findings.

What are the emerging insights?

Local boundaries of smart energy projects are elastic and vary significantly across case study projects. What they have in common is a pragmatic flexibility to broaden ‘where’ local energy takes place and by extension ‘who’ is involved, as required to meet project goals.

Methods of engagement vary significantly across smart local energy case study projects. While some projects concentrate on one-way communication, others foreground more creative and two-way approaches to user engagement. We are investigating why this diversity exists, and exploring how it relates back to the organisations involved in project teams.

The COVID-19 pandemic had significant impacts on how user engagement takes place across smart local energy case studies. It has had multiple consequences, enabling certain types of virtual user engagement but also limiting in-person exchanges. We are investigating what consequences this might have had to engagement practices so far, and to engagement strategies moving forward.

Public perceptions of a shift towards more localised energy systems are very positive. There is majority support for local institutions to play a stronger role in energy supply. There is also uncertainty around specific, less familiar aspects of ‘smart’ energy technologies and services (e.g. vehicle to grid). We are investigating the preferences and beliefs of different social groups towards these specific aspects.