Project blog, news, research collaboration

This blog presents the latest news and updates from a series of activities on smart grids by the CASCADE team, including active demand and the role of communities and prosumers

2011 RGS-IBG Intl. Conference

Babak Mahdavi Ardestani and Rupert Gammon attended (for 3 days and 1 day respectively) the RGS-IBG 2011 international conference in London (31 August – 2 September). Babak presented (presentation slides here) a specific scenario of the work in progress under the title of “Old hat? Modelling the effect of age on electricity consumption practice” in the (second) session under the theme of “Geographies of Practice in Domestic Energy Consumption II”. The conference was relevant to the CASCADE project in many different ways and in particular to this specific scenario related to older segment of energy consumers. The age and energy was discussed in various sessions covering themes on energy justice, vulnerable people, energy & resilience, climate change and health, to mention a few. There were also two sessions dedicated to the ‘shrinking cities’ phenomenon, where usually the older population remain in the city and the energy need and balance effects of the city in the meso/macro (e.g. national) scale can be studied using a simulation modelling approach (although the presented papers were not modelling based research, nor related to energy). The role of individual behaviour, choice and decision making, influenced by factors such as age, values, perceptions, and environments (among others) was discussed by many papers (presentations) which were informative from the CASCADE standpoint.

Some of the relevant/ interesting presentations included the followings:

  • Anne Winther talked about 30 community energy projects in rural Scotland (supported by Community and Renewable Energy Scheme -CARES), some of them as consisting of a sole wind turbine and generating about 2.5 MW electricity, in order to fulfil the community’s energy needs (and creating employment directly or indirectly and for creating community income) and the potential and challenges to maximise the energy opportunities from their local resources.
  • Rosie Day talked about how being ‘elderly’ is regarded as being ‘vulnerable’ (at least in the statistical ‘fuel poor’ terminology) and that many older people are not in this situation, whilst many others are rather resistant to this identity (‘vulnerable’). In particular, many older people do not follow clothing advice, or how to heat their homes in a prescribed way, and many others do not see themselves at risk in heat/cold waves. She views the vulnerability as an ‘assemblage’ (rather than attributes) which includes factors such as large homes, north facing living room, preference for sleeping in cooler bedroom and 15 years old boiler, among others.
  • Tom Hargreaves discussed the opportunities and challenges in changing and encouraging energy consumption behaviours in a study that included about 370 (volunteered) households in two different neighbourhoods of a city, by means of text, website and email communications and feedbacks. It appeared that changing energy consumption practices by making the usage visible, discussion/intervention, encouragement (e.g. congratulatory/ rewarding messages) initially engenders positive responses, but these diminish and plateau over time and sometimes even result is some degree of rebound effect.
  • Dana Abi Ghanem looked at the design of smart metering technology for ‘Active Demand’ in the domestic context, especially with reference to families and other social parameters. The project includes the use of a central control box linked to smart plugs around the home – a concept that has been discussed within CASCADE – and seeks to assess the effectiveness of technological interventions like this on both human and non-human actors.

Also relevant to the research and project activities at IESD were the following presentation examples:

  • Paulo Manuel Simões Canário explained how he and collaborators used BRAMS (Brazilian Regional Atmospheric Modelling System) to model and validate the spatial patterns of mortality and temperature during 2003 heat wave in Lisbon.
  • Shinya Yasumoto presented a virtual city model (a three-dimensional urban representation, which is produced and stored in a GIS, build by his collaborators in Japan) of Kyoto city. It allows enhancement of GIS-based visibility analysis (including ‘viewshed’ techniques), along with census data, to assess the equity of access to sunlight or other amenities, such as attractive views, etc. Other potential usage for this kind of vitutal city modelling (with information on vertical variation in building heights) includes hazard management, assessing the effects of floods on buildings, as well as calculatation of energy-based sunlight.
16/09/2011 09:57 · Babak Mahdavi

Energy and People Futures, Complexity and Challenges

Richard Snape attended this conference, hosted jointly by the Oxford University Environmental Change Institute and UKERC at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford on 20-21 September. It was a packed two days, with the challenges to conventional thinking starting from the opening plenary given by Elizabeth Shove. Prof. Shove exhorted delegates to examine what was missing from the systems they were considering and suggested that in examining how people consume energy, we miss the fact that devices (or “stuff” as she put it) consume energy, and that the only meaning of consumption was through such mediating devices. She presented her view of energy systems through the lens of practice theory - concentrating on the verbs such as “lighting”, “heating” and “cooling” as practices enacted by humans which may lead to consumption in contrast to a rather linear view of Attitude, Behaviour and Choice influencing consumption.

After the opening session, the conference split into four parallel sessions which continued throughout, with some 50+ papers presented. Papers and presentations from this event can accessed via the UKERC Meeting Place web site and the Environmental Change Institute website from Monday 10 October 2011. Major themes included “Combining behaviour with energy sytem modelling” and “Energy practices in households”, along with sessions considering governance, politics, security, justice and building physics as they relate to energy systems.

A highlight was the short paper presented by Dr. Nick Eyre exploring the high level view of whether supply side or demand side measures had thus far delivered more toward decorbonisation of the UK and prospects for each in the future. There were no hard conclusions, but the figures presented by Nick indicated, somewhat counter-intuitively, that demand side measures had been more successful thus far.

The second day began with a debate, considering the question “Is continual economic growth a desirable and feasible long term aim for rich countries?”. The question was rather changed by the “No” side of the debate substituting the word “the” in place of “a” desirable aim - the audience was overwhelmingly convinced that continual growth was not the desirable and feasible long term aim. It should be noted, however that the audience voted overwhelmingly “No” before a single word had been uttered, so perhaps Matthew Lockwood, arguing “Yes”, had a more difficult job than Tim Jenkins of NEF.

The conference closed with a panel session on the practical and policy implications of the issues discussed at the conference. Overriding themes from this session were that policy does not like complexity (or policies that will not pay off within a short timescale). Catherine Mitchell called for urgent action to promote de-carbonisation from the top down with responsibility spanning government departments (rather than responsibility residing entirely with DECC) - an approach which I annotated Big Regulation.

All in all, the conference highlighted the ongoing need to understand energy consumption as a complex system comprising both technological artefacts, human consumers and corporate entities (firms, regulators and government). Papers addressing some elements of integrating human and corporate behaviour with physical or economic models were presented, but it is clear that more work needs to be done to produce models which capture behaviour, physics and economics in their rich complexity.

And finally … we've added a new feature to the blog posts, you can now tweet them using the button below…

Richard Snape 03/10/2011 12:24

03/10/2011 14:12 · Richard Snape

Conference season

A somewhat belated blog post to describe the recent (and not-so-recent) dissemination activities of the project.

From June 6-11th, Richard Snape attended the eceee 2011 conference entitled 'Energy efficiency first: The foundation of a low-carbon society'. The conference attracted a wide international audience, with over 200 peer-reviewed full length papers presented over four days. The Smart Grid was a recurrent theme, mentioned in many of the panels and plenary sessions as an essential component of a future energy efficient economy. The conference as a whole confirmed the need (and wealth of opportunity) for a model to describe and predict potential Smart Grid system behaviour. Given the diversity of components and designs covered by the term Smart Grid, flexibility of such a model and the ability to include social, economic and technological influences will be key.

CASCADE presented a paper in the Dynamics of consumption. Full proceedings for all panels are available here - abstracts are free to browse, but membership is required to download the published papers. A pre-print version of the CASCADE paper is available from our Project publications page.

Further to this, Richard was select to present his PhD work at the University of Sussex Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) DSkills and DPhil days. A description of the event is available here. These days were an excellent opportunity for Richard to present his work on how behaviour of agents affects macro system behaviour and gain insightful comments from leading academics and other PhD candidates involved in studying Socio-Technical Systems.

Looking to the future, the project is due to present a paper at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) conference in September, watch this space for the working paper and presentation. Richard is attending the ESSA summer school 2011 next week to gain further insight into developing Agent Based Models of systems where social factors are included alongside the technical.

03/10/2011 11:25

CCC Renewable Energy Review

Former CASCADE research fellow Christophe Rynikiewicz has posted this blog article on the CLUES project blog describing the recently published Renewable Energy Review produced by the Climate Change Comittee (CCC). The full report and executive summary are available here.

With relation to the Smart Grid, the report presents a number of Renewable Energy scenarios. Technical feasibility of incorporating intermittent renewable generation is also addressed, with the executive summary stating “There is an issue about how the system copes with intermittent renewables (i.e. keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow). Our analysis suggests, however, that a high level of intermittent renewable generation is technically feasible, as long as options for providing system flexibility are fully deployed.”

The executive summary further comments that a range of options exist to address intermittency (e.g. demand-side response, interconnection, balancing generation) at a cost that is likely to be low relative to the costs of generation even up to very high penetrations. This is backed up by analysis in the main body of the report. This section of the report presents an assessment of achievable build rates suggesting that it would be technically feasible to achieve renewable generation penetration of 65% in 2030.

20/05/2011 14:12 · Richard Snape

From behavioral change to innovation in community energy

December 9th, 2010

The last panel of the recent annual SDRN conference provided a very timely debate to discuss environmental citizenship and pro-environmental behavior. The keynote speech was delivered by Prof Andy Dobson who authored a report launched on November 15th at the Royal Society in London on this topic for the Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN). He built on the recent briefing and addressed fiscal incentives, nudges theory and community involvment to allow discussions on values and principles. For him, “though definitions vary, ‘environmental citizenship’ can be thought of as pro-environmental behaviour, in public and in private, driven by a belief in fairness of the distribution of environmental goods, in participation, and in the co-creation of sustainability policy. While policies aimed at ‘nudging’ individuals to change their behaviour rely on the provision of expert-informed choices, environmental citizens co-create the circumstances in which they act, resulting in lasting pro-environmental behaviour change and community benefit.”

When it comes to behaviour change related to energy use, there has been an important and expanding literature. Recently an interesting conceptual framework called ‘Energy Cultures’ (Stephenson et al, 2010 in Energy Policy 38 (2010) 6120–6129) aims to assist in understanding the factors that influence energy consumption behaviour, and to help identify opportunities for behaviour change.

The CASCADE team recently contributed to the workshop of the ESMW Cluster (Energy in a Multipolar World) on the importance of Individuals and Communities to Energy Security (slides are on the website of the project) and aims to present part of its work at the ECEEE 2011 conference. Research projects previously analysed different types of emerging low-carbon communities as a context for individual behavioural change, notably Heiskanen et al, 2010 in Energy Policy. The focus is on how these communities offer solutions to problems (linked to social dilemnas, social conventions, lack of infrastructure or helplessness and disempowerment) in previous attempts to change individual behaviour. In particular, Richard’s PhD will examine to what extent individual or social learning can affect energy use patterns. This is a very timely topic for investigation. Social learning encompasses the creation, gain and retention of knowledge as a community rather than individual action. The different descriptions of learning processes will be implemented in our Agent Based Model environment to allow experimentation with the differing effects of learning influences.

Moreover, several research projects have been funded in the last weeks on the role of communities, amongst them a new EPSRC/ESRC project “Reducing Energy Consumption Through Community Knowledge Networks” (link to EPSRC / ESRC press release and DECC recently launched the ‘Community Energy Online’ website (

On 9th December, the CASCADE team attended the launch of a new research project on ‘Community Innovation for Sustainable Energy’ (CISE), led by SPRU at the University of Sussex and CSERGE, University of East Anglia. The project will investigate how innovative sustainable energy projects replicate, scale up and translate their ideas between communities. The report of the panel is available on the project’s blog.

It is, then, an interesting time in the debate on low carbon transition pathways in the UK and will tell us if we collectively manage to relocate energy in the social commons as John Byrne (2009) advocated. The debate can also inform how 'the public' engage with socio-technical configurations of the energy systems beyond NIMBY, see previous work by Gordon Walker and Noel Cass or Patrick Devine-Wright.

The question whether new institutions are needed to foster Active Demand, prosumers and low carbon communities’ engagement in the smart(er) grids is still open. The newly funded projects, notably by the Low Carbon Network Fund, and other smart grids pilots will provide some insights on how to foster participation and innovation.

13/12/2010 17:07 · Christophe Rynikiewicz

**UK Innovative projects funded via the Low Carbon Networks Fund**

November 29th, 2010

Four innovative projects will share £62 million of funding from the £500 million Ofgem Low Carbon Networks Fund and speed up the development of smart grids in the UK.

The 4 projects sponsored by the distribution network operators (DNOs) to try out new technology, operating and commercial arrangements are: • Customer-led Network Revolution (submitted by CE Electric UK) • Low Carbon London (submitted by EDF Energy Networks - now UK Power Networks) • LV Network Templates for a low carbon future (submitted by Western Power Distribution). • Low Carbon Hub (submitted by Central Networks)

All 11 full submission proposals (each DNO group submitted at least one proposal) are published on the website. More details are available in the press release and on the dedicated website. Q&A about Lincolnshire Low Carbon Hub are available here here

Moreover, Ofgem’s new RIIO model (Revenue=Incentives+Innovation+Outputs) for setting price controls will expand funding for innovation across all network sectors, not only electricity distribution.

Acording to the Energy Networks Association ENA, those projects will “increase learning opportunities, increase skills within companies and maintain the momentum that has been generated through the bid process, particularly partnerships with local organisations”.

The UK Government said that “networks will be vital to enabling the transition to a low carbon economy” and government will “need to be proactive in grid development and provide strategic leadership so that we are prepared for the future changes expected to Britain’s electricity system”. This came in their response to the Energy & Climate Change Select Committee Future of Electricity Networks Report published on 10th February this year. The full Report can be read: here

DECC has also a funding of £2.8m towards eight smaller smart grid demonstration projects.

02/12/2010 16:37 · Christophe Rynikiewicz

British Gas picks Trilliant to network 16 million smart meters

November 23, 2010

British Gas chose Trilliant, of Redwood City, California, to provide communications for a smart meter roll-out to more than 16 million customers Smart Grid News. Using in-home communications boxes described as “like modems,” Trilliant will connect residential smart meters to each other and to gas meters, EV chargers and in-home displays and devices. The boxes communicate within the home using ZigBee and communicate with the utility's central office over a GPRS cellular network.

The VP of Trilliant says that the use of cellular networks puts Trilliant into direct competition with SmartSynch, though the firm also competes with Silver Spring Networks. British Gas plans to install one million meters in 2012, and Trilliant will sell it a box to connect each meter. The utility's choice of Trilliant expands an earlier agreement under which the firm installed software at British Gas' headquarters 18 months ago, as pointed out by Trilliant.

This news is in line with the expectations of the U.K. Department for Energy and Climate Change which has previously set the target of having smart meters in every home by 2020 or sooner. This amounts to roughly 47 million meters at 26 million locations. Smart meters combined with a Smart Grid provides transparency into energy consumption for all the players involved, especially the utilities and consumers. The idea of smart metering is to help people make informed decisions on electricity usage that would assist them in reducing their energy bills. On an equal note it would help in reducing utility operational expenditures, and not to forget the reductions in carbon emissions.

02/12/2010 16:49 · Vijay Pakka

Ecotricity to develop fields of photovoltaic panels

Ecotricity, a provider of renewable electricity, has announced its plans to develop a series of Sun Parks; fields of photovoltaic, or PV, panels producing electricity from sunlight and connecting directly into the UK grid. The planning permission for Ecotricity's first Sun Park, a 1MW array of panels located adjacent to one of its Wind Parks in Lincolnshire, has been granted by East Lindsey Council. Ecotricity expects to commence work at the site within just a few weeks and have it fully operational by March next year, which will make it the UK's very first large scale, grid connected, sun park.

The photovoltaic (PV) panels will stand in 59 rows just 2 metres high on a 4.7 acre (1.9 hectare) site, and with a capacity of 1MW will make enough green electricity for around 280 average homes each year for the next 25 years. This first Sun Park will be the very first project funded by Ecobonds - within days of the offer period closing on the 10th of Dec.

02/12/2010 16:53 · Vijay Pakka

Bornholm Small Islands conference (ISISA)

IESD researchers Richard Snape and Dr Christophe Rynikiewicz, working on the CASCADE project, participated in an unique international conference on Small Islands in Bornholm, Denmark. Bornholm is being used as a unique laboratory for testing the implementation of smart grid concept in Europe.

From the 23 - 26 August 2010, CRT from Denmark hosted the 11th Islands of the World Conference, an international research conference on “Celebrating Island Connectivities” in association with ISISA. The International Small Islands Studies Association is an interdisciplinary association which focuses on the specific conditions that apply to islands. The conference had a total of 75 participants from 16 countries spread across the globe, and the academic content focused on innovation and economic development, climate change and sustainability and the arts, culture and history. CRT chose a special conference form and transformed the small town of Gudhjem into a conference town; a form, which many of the guests remarked on favourably.

The conference details and abstracts are available at CRT

The paper presented by Richard Snape and Christophe Rynikiewicz was selected for the special edition of a book (2011). Write to the authors for a copy of the working paper and the presentation delivered

Bornholm island showing renewable generators (Graphic: Troels Marstrand)

More on Bornholm visions for a low carbon future and smart grid

The vision of Bornholm as a green island includes the goals of becoming 100% based on renewable energy, utilization of Bornholm as an experimental facility for the future energy system and creation of green jobs and development on the island. The strategy is branded under the label “Bright Green Island”. Bornholm is seen as a small model of the expected society of Denmark in the year 2020, where Denmark is committed to reach an amount of 30% renewable energy.

Østergaard and Nielsen (2010) provide an overview of the Bornholm power system.

The EcoGrid EU project is scheduled to be running from early 2011 until the end of 2014. The aim of the project is convert the Bornholm electricity system so that 50% of the electricity is generated from renewable energy. As part of this, it will demonstrate smart grid principles and devices.

Bornholm is also hosting the Danish EDISON project investigating how a large fleet of electric vehicles (EVs) can be integrated in a way that supports the electric grid while benefitting both the individual car owners and society as a whole through reductions in CO2 emissions. These projects have led to Bornholm being called the “smart grid lab for Europe”.

28/10/2010 10:08 · Cascade admin

Website v0.2 created

CASCADE website now created, with structure and design. Project members are invited to apply for usernames and passwords.

17/06/2010 17:05 · Cascade admin
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