User Behaviour and Preferences

User Behaviour and Preferences

Why user behaviour and preferences are important for Smart Local Energy Systems

Moving to low carbon and decentralised energy systems means using renewable energy sources that are closer to home. It means that generation, and other energy services including energy storage, are more likely to become integrated at a local level near to where people live, work and take leisure.

Democratisation of the energy system is seeing more stakeholders - including households - generating their own energy, selling or trading energy, and generally becoming more actively involved with the energy system. With technologies progressing this will become more common. Without public engagement, there is a significant risk that there could be a lack of widescale uptake of new smart energy products and services, or even pushback.

 

Democratisation of the energy system is seeing more stakeholders - including households - generating their own energy, selling or trading energy, and generally becoming more actively involved with the energy system. With technologies progressing this will become more common. Without public engagement, there is a significant risk that there could be a lack of widescale uptake of new smart energy products and services, or even pushback.

Although the emergence of smart local energy system (SLES) projects is at an early stage, academic research on pilot initiatives has found a lack of emphasis on user engagement as they focus early efforts on the technology and making it work.

 

Some of the research questions that need to be answered include:
- ‘Why do people running demo projects think users want to engage with smart local energy projects?’
- ‘What assumptions are being made about how and when users should be involved?’
- ‘What challenges are faced when different groups are involved in the process?’
- ‘What benefits or risks do users see in smart local energy systems?’
- ‘Do these perceptions change over time?’
- ‘Does it matter when and how users become involved?’
- ‘If so, what are the implications of different forms of user engagement for achieving environmental and social as well as economic goals?’

How will EnergyREV deliver unique and useful insights?

There is a lot of literature around why engagement does or doesn’t happen for example, a lack of interest by the public to be involved or a desire by project developers to avoid public objections. However, this literature is not specific to smart local energy systems, so there is not a clear understanding at this scale as to how engagement is or isn’t happening. Most energy transition work treats end users and the technology/services being provided separately. By taking a whole systems view, the different components are being brought together.

EnergyREV research will investigate user engagement at this scale and critically evaluate the underlying assumptions in the literature.

Use engagement will be explored through the following:

Investigating engagement by project stakeholders with the users involved in and affected by their projects: Reviewing the timing, methods, topics and impacts of engagement. The actors leading and driving initiatives will be researched to identify what are their expectations around engagement and what they are practically doing over time.

Investigating engagement by users to understand the smart local energy system from their perspectives: What do they know about it? Do they feel involved? When and in what ways have they become involved? Does this change over time across different phases of the projects? Do users trust those who are leading it and their proposals? What impact do they feel it will have on their lives? Do they see it as bringing tangible benefits to themselves and their communities?

This will help to understand what mechanisms are being used to engage and how successful they can be over time. It will also help to identify new ways of working across a wide variety of stakeholders in the transition to smart local energy systems.

Taking a whole system perspective could help identify different and unique elements of engagement for smart local energy systems. By working with case study projects and the PFER demonstrator and design projects we are hoping to open up ways of working with stakeholders and users, bringing the topic of user engagement into the process. This could contribute to EnergyREVs innovation - supporting demonstration projects to open up and evaluate engagement activities and outcomes.

What will the user behaviour and preferences team deliver for EnergyREV?

Three review tasks will be carried out initially to:

1. clarify the differences between Community and Local Energy approaches.
2. evaluate user engagement in existing demonstrators - looking at how ‘users’ are defined and how engagement has been conducted.
3. understand whether engagement has been evaluated in existing schemes and what methods of evaluation have been used to date – this will inform how we then go on with the rest of the WP activities.

These tasks will lead to written reports made publicly available on the EnergyRev website.  

This will be followed by two further tasks:
1. undertaking research on how user engagement pans out over time in real world demonstrators – by following users over an extended time period. This has not been done before. This will be achieved using a mix of methods, for example in-depth interviews, diaries, focus groups and questionnaire surveys.
2. Bringing these issues up to the national level – using a national survey to investigate public perceptions of and support for smart local energy systems and their role in delivering net zero emissions at the societal level.

 

The outcome of the user behaviour and preferences work will be a step change in our understanding of user engagement with local smart energy systems.

Insights drawn from the tasks will be shared with policy and practitioner communities using a range of accessible written outputs, including policy briefs and summary reports. In addition, high quality academic journal outputs will be published and verbal presentations given at leading international conferences.