Understanding Energy Demand

Posted by James O'Toole on 30 March 2017

Major reduction of CO2 emissions is a global priority, with the UK legally obliged to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. To meet these ambitious goals, we need a deep understanding of how and why energy is used, so that government, industry and consumers can all play their part.

The six End Use Energy Demand (EUED) Centres aim to provide this understanding. Funded by the RCUK Energy Programme (2013-2018), the Centres work across a range of disciplines to create technical, social and economic tools to address energy demand across society.

Efficiency vs Demand

More energy-efficient machines are only part of the puzzle. Sometimes energy efficiency can even lead to more energy being used. For example, better fuel economy could encourage people to use their cars more. Consumer attitudes, industry practices and government policy are equally important to reducing energy demand. Indeed, many believe that the technology needed to achieve a low-carbon society is already in place, the real question is what is stopping large scale implementation?

Social practices

How we cook, wash, keep warm, travel around and how and where we work and entertain ourselves are social practices that are constantly changing across the decades. How these develop in future could have a huge influence on energy use. The DEMAND Centre argues that we should take the opportunity to shape practices for a lower-carbon society.

How do new technologies (driverless cars, heat pumps), social arrangements (car sharing) and modes of behaviour (cycling) impact on reducing energy demand? The Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand takes a 'socio-technical' approach to the question. They focus on the 'human software' such as user behaviour, market trends and the political climate involved in energy saving innovations rather than just the technology.

Real world energy use

Gas boilers can work very differently in laboratories than homes. For example, the insulation of buildings varies greatly and some people may struggle to understand heating controls. Knowing what's really happening with energy use can help policymakers make better-informed decisions about energy reduction measures. The Centre for Energy Epidemiology uses techniques commonly associated with medicine to get a big picture of real-world energy use in buildings and transport.

Heat pumps are a potential lower-carbon alternative to traditional central heating. What are the barriers to their being rolled out nationally in terms of consumer attitudes, logistics and policy/market conditions? The i-STUTE Centre are looking at innovations in heating and cooling (e.g. supermarket freezers) from a technical, business and policy perspective.

Investigating materials

If lighter, more long-lasting and locally-produced materials could be used to make more energy-efficient buildings this could lead to a host of CO2 reductions along the chain. The Centre on Industrial Energy, Materials and Products focusses on the way the materials used in manufacturing and construction are produced, transported and disposed of to identify ways to reduce demand.

Similarly, with the food we eat, energy is used every step of the way. From farming, processing and transporting to freezing, transport and selling, to cooking and disposal. The CSEF Centre look across the lifecourse of our food 'from farm to fork' to identify 'hotspots' where energy waste can be reduced.

This brief overview of the EUED Centres' work gives an idea of the complex socio-technical issues at play in reducing energy demand. There is much to be done to achieve CO2 emissions targets, but encouragingly there is much that can be done and there are plenty of ideas about how to do it.

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of James O'Toole
Name: James O'Toole
Department: End Use Energy Demand Centres Coordinator
Organisation: University College London
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7679 9040

James O'Toole is the End Use Energy Demand Centres Coordinator.

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