So far, decarbonisation of the power sector has not involved consumers changing their behaviour beyond choosing a green energy supplier. However, continuing growth in low-carbon electricity now opens the door for the public to play a more active role by choosing low-carbon electric transport and heating and by using electricity more flexibly to maximise use of renewables. This is now technically feasible through electric vehicle technology and heat pumps and is further facilitated by smart storage and automation technologies enabling flexible consumption. Most UK decarbonisation scenarios for domestic heat include mass adoption of heat pumps, though district heat networks and hydrogen-based heating pose additional questions and opportunities. Greater clarity on policy to greatly accelerate adoption of new heating technologies and services is needed.

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Energy-related activities

Recent work by BEEP members under this theme includes Energy Futures Lab briefing papers on residential demand response, energy digitalisation, electricity markets, and smart flexible electric heat.

Ongoing work by BEEP members is exploring using real world data from ex-post assessments of heating and building technologies to overcome barriers to adoption. This work is funded by the EPSRC. If you would like to take part in ongoing stakeholder consultation activities for this project please contact Dr Richard Carmichael.

The Grantham Institute is carrying out an evidence review on policy, regulatory and market enablers for smart local energy systems in the UK. This forms part of the Energy Revolution Research Consortium (EnergyREV), which has a strong user and consumer focus. For further information about the evidence review, please contact Dr Jeff Hardy or Dr Madeleine Morris.

The Business School runs Randomised Control Trials to measure the impact of different incentives on demand and its flexibility, such as in the POWBAL project that uses smart plugs. To take part in these trials, or hear more about them, please contact Dr Mirabelle Muûls.

Surface transport is now the largest emitting sector of the UK economy, accounting for 27% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, over half of which is from cars. The UK has ambitious targets for shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) but considerable uncertainty exists around actual future rates of adoption. Reducing car ownership, dependency and use through modal shift to public transport, walking and cycling will also be an important part of solutions and offers the greatest co-benefits for air quality, congestion, more active and healthy lifestyles, and safer, stronger communities.

The CCC’s Net Zero scenarios allow for a growth in UK aviation of up to 25% on current levels but the risk of much larger growth in demand has been forecast (DfT). Flying is both a uniquely high-impact and un-evenly distributed activity but low-carbon aviation is not anticipated in the time-frame required. It will therefore be vital to restrain rising demand and encourage alternative modes including high speed train networks.

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Transport related activities

The Urban Systems Lab (USL) at the Centre for Transport Studies (CTS) is a partner in the Innovate UK-funded project E-Flex, a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) real-world demonstrator programme. The USL and CTS contribute world-leading research expertise in short and long-term travel demand modelling, travel behaviour analysis, electric mobility demand, and electric vehicle-to-grid integration. For more information regarding the activities of the Urban Systems Lab please contact Dr Aruna Sivakumar.

The USL also recently completed an EPSRC funded project ACCLAIM (Airport Capacity Consequences Leveraging Aviation Integrated Modelling) in collaboration with the UCL Energy Institute and the University of Southampton. The project has generated timely and novel cross-national data to understand the factors underlying the air travel itinerary choices made for personal and business travel.

Like aviation, diet has been neglected by climate policy. Also like aviation, UK agriculture is expected to account for approximately 30% of remaining positive emissions by 2050 under the CCC’s Further Ambition net-zero scenario. The impacts of UK food consumption extend beyond emissions currently produced by UK agriculture – both through imported foods and the potential to free-up land use for carbon sequestration through afforestation. The livestock industry uses much more land and water than horticulture and is especially high-emitting, accounting for an estimated 14.5% of all human greenhouse gas emissions globally. Approximately 14% of all food purchased in the UK is thrown away contributing to emissions in production and emitting methane from landfill. Lower impact diets also tend to be healthier than current UK diets adding to motivation for dietary choices based on environmental and animal welfare concerns.

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Consumption related activities

Ongoing work by BEEP members is exploring using producer-specific food carbon data and personalised feedback to support the shift to more sustainable and healthy food production and consumption. If you would like to take part in ongoing stakeholder consultation activities to explore feasibility and impacts please contact Dr Richard Carmichael.

This theme is concerned with the impact that human activity has on the natural environment and the consequences of the resulting environmental changes on human societies, human well-being and biodiversity. Billions of people depend on nature for their livelihood, food security and wellbeing, however many of our activities can degrade and destroy the natural environment. A degraded natural environment will in turn negatively impact people’s health and wellbeing. Environmental sustainability thus requires an understanding of how people and the environment interact, the impact people have on the environment and the policies, programs and behaviours that can be adopted to reduce or reverse negative impacts on people and nature. People and nature must be considered concurrently in order to achieve environmental sustainability.

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Conservation related activities

The ‘Insights for catalysing conservation’ is a project based at the Centre for Environmental Policy which focusses on explaining how, why and when resource management and conservation initiatives are adopted. For further details, please contact Dr Morena Mills.

Cross-cutting themes

There is some overlap between the main four themes (e.g. electric vehicles concern both Energy and Transport; palm oil may be of interest for both Diet and Conservation). However, there are two cross-cutting themes that can apply to any of the other four main themes: Digital behaviour change interventions and Modelling behaviour. For example, Digital behaviour change interventions could be applied to Energy-related behaviour (e.g. digital comparison tools for energy tariffs) or Food/Diet (e.g. personalised feedback on food purchasing behaviour delivered through a smart-phone app).

Cross-cutting themes

A cross-cutting theme for shifting behaviours is the potential of data and ICT (information and communications technology), including Internet of Things, as assets and tools for enabling consumers to make informed decisions about technology adoption and automation, for providing consumers with product information and feedback on purchasing habits and for redesigning financial incentives for shifts in demand and production. Digital behaviour change interventions (DBCIs) have the potential to be attractive to policymakers and industry as cost-effective ways to promote and enable low carbon choices.

Work under this cross-cutting theme is developing knowledge around these digital resources/services in terms of the evidence on: impacts; technical, regulatory, policy and commercial contexts; costs, benefits, opportunities, risks; and stakeholder attitudes. This will enable us to provide improved knowledge on the potential of DBCIs for behaviour change and roadmaps for implementing them.

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Ongoing activities

Two DBCIs currently being explored by BEEP members are (i) using a publicly accessible database of ex-post assessments to overcome barriers to adoption of low-carbon domestic heat technologies and (ii) using producer-specific food carbon data and personalised feedback to support the shift to more sustainable and healthy food production and consumption. This work is funded by the EPSRC (through Impact Acceleration Account funding) and will involve collaboration with BEIS and Hildebrand Technology (heat), and Defra and Giki Social Enterprise (diet). If you would like to take part in ongoing stakeholder consultation activities for either of these projects please contact Dr Richard Carmichael.

There are multiple research activities at the Urban Systems Lab focused on the interface between ICT and consumer behaviour. For instance, monitoring and evaluating the impact of digital social markets in stimulating sustainable behaviours as part of the EU Sharing Cities project. Also, experimenting with the use of mobile interfaces to drive controlled demand side responses in the energy market. For more information about these research activities at the Urban Systems Lab please contact Dr Aruna Sivakumar.

Energy-related consumer investment decisions are complex and heterogeneous in the sense that they are not based on one specific criteria, but rather a range of drivers of consumer behaviour each with their own preferences and properties. Given these challenges, agent-based simulation models can help to determine energy related investment decision-making, explicitly characterizing the ability of individual actors (people or institutes) to gather information, evaluate the options against relevant performance indicators, and support the selection of alternatives. Understanding consumer decisions and the underlying consumer choice behaviours is an important step towards developing such agent-based models, simulating operational (resource demands) as well as strategic (technology adoption and investment) behaviour. Novel data collection efforts are often needed to achieve these objectives, which can include monitoring consumption and adoption decisions as well as interviews and questionnaires in direct engagement with key stakeholders.

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Modelling related activities

In the IDLES (Integrated Development of Low-Carbon Energy Systems) programme, the Energy Futures Lab is investigating the role of demand side programmes in energy system modelling. IDLES aims to deliver a multi-scale model with fine temporal and spatial resolution incorporating energy generation, conversion, network and storage technologies, numerical representation of actions and behaviours of domestic and industrial consumers and market design.

At the Centre for Process Systems Engineering (CPSE), agent-based modelling is used to simulate the behaviour of individuals to generate demand for energy, water and transport services, for example in the Climate-KIC project Smart Sustainable Districts, DFID funded, and in several smaller projects for EDF that contribute towards the IDLES project. For further information, please contact Dr Koen H. van Dam or Professor Nilay Shah.

The Sustainable Gas Insititute’s MUSE (the ModUlar energy systems Simulation Environment) is an open-source agent-based model which characterises investor behaviour in order to build more realistic depictions of energy system transitions.

The core expertise of the research team at the Urban Systems Lab is in understanding consumer choice behaviour, undertaking primary data collection to understand and model choice behaviour, and in developing predictive models of choice behaviour that can be used to analyse a variety of policy and demographic scenarios. The USL also owns an agent-based microsimulation model of energy and travel demand that is currently being further developed and applied in the context of the IDLES programme to analyse decentralised and demand-driven control strategies for the energy system. For more information regarding the activities of the Urban Systems Lab please contact Dr Aruna Sivakumar.