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A new dawn

by on October 1, 2013

Today is day one of my new research grant ‘smarter homes’. It has been a long time coming given that I applied for the grant over a year ago, and found out I was successful in June. In some ways the application process seems an age ago, in other ways it is as if it was only yesterday. And what an ordeal it was, even if it was worth it in the end.

Delft market square Source:  Remi Jouan  via Wikimedia Commons

Delft market square Source: Remi Jouan via Wikimedia Commons

So, you might ask, why did I apply? The future research leaders scheme is still relatively new having started in 2012. It is designed specifically for early career researchers (those less than 4 years since submission of the PhD thesis) and has an emphasis on training and skills as well as on the development of a research project. So, in addition to the research project on ‘smarter homes’, I am running some seminars, public engagement events, and will be developing an edited book, journal publications and funding applications. All of this will be done in conjunction with OTB Delft, and involve me travelling to the Netherlands every so often. Not too shabby!

The idea behind ‘smarter homes’ came from my time working in the Centre for Housing Research. Being new to the housing and architecture literatures, I was a little frustrated by the focus on design and technology as solutions to growing energy consumption, and the absence in these literatures of any discussion about why energy is demanded, how, and for what purpose. Indeed, it seemed to me that all the discussion was about housing rather than homes. Even when I searched for ‘energy efficient home’ on wikimedia commons for a photo to go with this post, the first few that come up don’t show any signs of people… (you’ll now understand the deliberate irony of the photo at the top of this blog)

Source: John M [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: John M [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

So what I hope to do in this grant, in addition to all the other skills and training related things, is to contribute to debates about the lived experience of low carbon. Low carbon is a
relatively new term used to describe activities that have a minimal output of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide,
and governments, including the UK, have developed sophisticated policies to deliver new low carbon economies. Accordingly, low carbon housing is that which has a minimal output of carbon dioxide and the term is used to describe a wide range of housing types, for instance, those which meet or exceed specific environmental standards (e.g. UK Code for Sustainable Homes), for example passiv houses.

Source: By Bios (talk · contribs)  via Wikimedia Commons

Source: By Bios (talk · contribs) via Wikimedia Commons

As the furory that surrounded Ed Milliband’s announcement of a freeze on energy prices last week, energy is currently a hot topic in UK political arenas. Indeed, recent research indicates that although the energy efficiency of homes has risen steadily over the last 30 years, there has not been a reduction in domestic energy consumption (McManus et al., 2010, Steg & Vlek 2009). So, for example, despite the installation of technology like loft and cavity wall insulation and low-energy appliances, households are using ever more energy. In addition, research has demonstrated that occupants of low carbon homes often find methods to bypass low carbon solutions (e.g. installing radiators or removing devices which impede the flow of hot water in the shower) in order to prevent the curtailment of their activities (Gill et al., 2010). All of this means that we need to think carefully about low carbon (or energy efficiency) technology – what we do and how we do it, as well as how people adapt, refine or ignore this technology. If we agree that something needs to be done about domestic energy consumption, then maybe we need to be clearer on why energy is needed in the first place?

Gill, Z., Tierney, M., Pegg, I., and Allan, N (2010) Low-energy dwellings: the contribution of behaviours to actual performance, Building Research and Information 38(5) 491-508.
McManus, A., Gaterell, M., Coates, L (2010) The potential of the Code for Sustainable Homes to deliver genuine ‘sustainable energy’ in the UK social housing sector, Energy Policy 2013-2019.
Steg, L., and Vlek, C (2009) Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour: an integrative review and research agenda, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29 309-317.

  1. According to ONS household energy consumption decreased by 25% between 2005 and 2011. A combination of energy price increases and efficiency improvements?

    • Thanks Tom – interesting. The big question is the extent to which it was price or efficiency improvements which led to this reduction. Without having looked at the data closely, I personally suspect price may have had more to do with it.

  2. Yes, that’s the problem isn’t it. Demand response to price will also vary across income deciles. Interesting work by CSE on this. Understanding fuel expenditure –

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