skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Marcos Pelenur

A study of energy management and its effect on well-being: can we thrive by using less energy?

Marcos Pelenur

A study of energy management and its effect on well-being: can we thrive by using less energy?

Each year the UK's demand for energy continues to rise, resulting in the need for more peak-load generation. The majority of this peak-load generation is met with non-renewable resources, which operate at relatively low efficiencies and high unit costs; resulting in more CO2 emissions and a higher price of energy for the consumer. Therefore, this growing peak demand will need to be addressed if the Government intends to provide affordable power to the people, and meet its commitment to reduce energy demand by 20% by 2020. One mandate introduced by the Government is the installation of electricity and gas smart meters across all homes in Great Britain. However, the likely response from consumers to the full roll out of smart meters remains uncertain, and the smart meters currently being trialled have only been set up as passive devices, unable to dynamically inform the consumer about high energy peaks during the day. As an effort to help improve the effectiveness of such passive devices, or other alternatives, this study explored the relationship between energy management systems, electricity demand, and subjective well-being. The aim was to examine if active remote control of appliances/lights, or passive energy management systems can be used as sustainable solutions to reduce energy bills, reduce energy demand, and improve household well-being. To answer this research objective, a six week inductive exploratory study was conducted with 14 participants divided into three groups. Group one received a passive electricity monitor, group two received an electricity monitor and an active energy management system, and group three was the control group. The active energy management system allowed the author to remotely control selected appliances/lights during times of peak energy demand. The main research variables measured for each group over the course of the study were: electricity demand; Satisfaction; Affect; and Enjoyment. Electricity kW demand data was gathered using the electricity monitor, and the well-being measures of Satisfaction, Affect, and Enjoyment were obtained by a mixed-method design, with two sets of semistructured participant interviews for qualitative data, and two sets of questionnaires for quantitative data. The results from this study showed that the mean energy demand difference between the active, passive, and control groups was not statistically significant, i.e., no energy savings were observed as a result of the passive or active systems. Although, there was a noticeable difference in the standard deviation of the peak energy change between the active group compared to that of the passive group and control group. This smaller peak energy standard of deviation for the active group implied that the intervention did affect the variance between the active group's peak demand compared to that of the passive and control groups. Overall, the well-being measures of Affect and Enjoyment increased in the passive group because of the new awareness about energy created by the electricity monitor, but Satisfaction decreased in the passive group, and all three measures on average decreased in the active group. Feedback from the study participants indicated that well-being may have improved if financial incentives (Time of Use tariffs) were introduced as part of the study. Even for a small study that consisted of self-selected energy interested individuals, awareness about electricity consumption or direct control was not enough to significantly change behaviour or increase Satisfaction. Considering the Government's commitment to equip each UK household with smart gas and electricity meters in the next decade, further research that includes social variables, such as well-being, may be needed before such a rollout is justified. Otherwise, there is a risk that the substantial investment in new energy infrastructure will result in a very little gain for the UK, and ultimately the burden will be borne by both the energy consumer and the Treasury.