Distributed energy generation is considered a cornerstone of the future energy infrastructure. Residential energy generation, using solar panels, wind turbines, etc., has become a feasible option for many house owners. Research as been focusing on reducing energy consumption since decades. Most citizens are unaware of what they can do to reduce consumption and how to manage reduced consumption. Energy consumption feedback is a first step towards raising energy awareness and a number of projects have already shown a significant impact on overall consumption. Yet, this is not sufficient for three reasons:
- Firstly; this information is often in the form of incomprehensible values and graphs.
- Secondly; the concepts related to energy are hard to understand because of the invisible and intangible nature of energy and electricity.
In contrast, local energy generation such as solar photovoltaic (PV) provides free and green electricity and makes the production more tangible for the end-user. However, this source is not available at all time and we can highlight the Energy Gap. The Energy Gap in residential context can be break down in three factors:
- Finally, despite previous energy crises, electricity is commonly seen as an unlimited resource with few, if any, environmental drawbacks.
- There is high energy consumption throughout the day. It is generally acknowledged that there is a need to reduce electricity consumption.
- The domestic consumption pattern is not evenly distributed throughout the day. Instead it shows sharp peaks during the morning and the evenings. The peak of solar generation is at a different time, i.e. around noon. Since solar electricity generation and electricity consumption are out of sync renewable energy is ‘wasted’.
This Energy Gap can be reduced through Energy Demand-Shifting which consists of delaying the use of energy in time to a better period, in terms of cost or carbon footprint. The overarching objective of my research is to support resident in the process of Energy Demand-Shifting. I will explore two different ways:
- In order to meet the increased demand during the consumption peak times households import energy from the grid which in turn draws from the generating plants that can ramp power production most quickly – usually gas and coal. The effect is an increase in the carbon intensity of electricity, because these flexible energy sources emit more CO2 than less flexible sources such as nuclear energy.
- Engaging user interfaces with high level electricity generation feedback (such as suggestions on energy demand-shifting, alerts and forecast) for appliances which require resident intervention (e.g. a washing machine) and;
In my research I use a mix of engineering and empirical approaches, mutually strengthening and informing one another to provide an overall solution. I used data mining as a starting point to motivate the research, to understand energy data and evaluate the potential impact of electricity demand-shifting. Now I am currently experimenting user-centric case studies with Technology Probe approach, interviews and focus groups to build a support for energy demand shifting with the end-user, the resident. Finally, the next step will focus on engineering. I will work on a smart home solution allowing to generalize my current case studies into a generic platform of user support.
- Automatic mechanisms to shift appliances that do not require any resident intervention (e.g. a hot water heater).