Engaging beyond the meter: Encouraging residential energy management using smart grid tools
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With scientists around the world indicating a brief window of opportunity for reducing irreversible climate change impacts, the time has never been more pressing for sustainability transitions (IPCC, 2018). The role of energy is especially important in these developments, where anthropogenic forces have created a “… twin energy and climate nexus,” (Van De Graaf, 2013, p. 42) as a result of the extraction, production, and consumption of energy resources. At a global scale, 78% of human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are from energy production and consumption (Natural Resources Canada, 2018a). Therefore, clean energy developments are an essential element of international climate goals. A key element of clean energy developments is energy conservation and demand management. With Canada having one of the world’s largest per capita electricity consumption rates, increased end-use management is essential to reduce system-level pressures within clean energy developments (International Energy Agency, 2018). Significant opportunities for electricity management exist in the residential sector, which contributes to 27% of international electricity consumption (International Energy Agency, 2017). This is especially the case in Canada, where the residential sector contributes to 34% of national electricity use, emitting 21.4 Mt of CO2e (Natural Resources Canada, 2019b, 2019a). Therefore, there is a strong need to transform Canada’s residential consumption management and practices to benefit national climate change objectives. Technological innovations in the modern energy grid deliver new opportunities for clean energy developments. Specifically, the smart grid creates two-way flows of both data and energy, thereby transforming technological capabilities and end-user roles. Beginning in 2004, the Province of Ontario facilitated large-scale smart metering implementation to enable a ‘conservation culture,’ consequently, becoming a prominent testing ground for residential smart grid development. Although the smart grid offers new technological potential, investigating ‘beyond’ the meter and into end-user engagement is critical for making these large-scale shifts. Social science research applications have previously remained underrepresented in energy literature and deliver novel opportunities for studying smart grid engagement. The holistic and scalable energy cultures framework presents a comprehensive approach to study the complexity of residential energy management, with substantial opportunities for applications in smart grid research (Stephenson et al., 2010). This dissertation, entitled ‘Engaging beyond the meter: Encouraging residential energy management using smart grid tools,’ delivers novel contributions to residential smart grid and engagement research for developing insights on household engagement and energy management. Drawing from the literatures on smart grid interventions, social science energy research, and consumer engagement, this dissertation utilizes two Ontario residential smart grid case studies to assess the potential of smart grid technologies to facilitate consumption changes. Additionally, this dissertation incorporates a comprehensive review of existing approaches for intervention design and proposes a novel integrated engagement model for shifting consumer cultures towards sustainability. This dissertation research is presented in four distinct yet interrelated manuscripts. Chapter 4 investigates the impacts of smart grid interventions on household energy cultures during a multi-year residential smart grid case study, following participant interviews. The energy cultures framework is applied to identify the nuances surrounding household energy management, specifically the changes in norms, practices, and materials. Additionally, qualitative feedback on the effectiveness of these smart grid engagement mechanisms for household energy management is collected. The results identify the challenges surrounding household energy management in relation to smart grid developments and present a novel application of the energy cultures framework within the Canadian residential smart grid. Chapter 5 further examines the impact of two smart grid interventions (electricity report and mobile tablet) to re-engage consumers over the multi-year residential smart grid project. This study examines whole-house and appliance-level consumption data alongside participant interviews. As a result, this study determines whether re-engagement influenced consumption, highlights contributing energy management practices (e.g., cooking, laundry, entertaining, air conditioning, dishwashing), and determines underlying factors influencing energy management. Significant conservation and peak shifting in laundry consumption were identified during a 10-week autumn period. User experience interviews highlighted the preference for weekly reports over a tablet for re-engagement. Therefore, this chapter provides unique perspectives for long-term engagement and re-engagement in the smart grid for the promotion of lasting residential energy management. Chapter 6 assesses the influence of a large-scale introduction of in-home displays (IHDs) to central Ontario homes. Two years of hourly consumption data for IHD recipients (n=5274) are analyzed and compared to a control group (n=3020) to determine changes in conjunction with IHD feedback at population and cohort levels. Consumer segments incorporating behavioural (load-shape) and thermal consumption patterns were identified. Following an impact assessment, no significant impacts were experienced in the general population; however, specific consumer segments responded favourably by conservation or peak shifting. These notable segments only represented 12% of the IHD recipients and had evening peak and heating thermal consumption profiles. This study emphasizes the importance of effective program design that utilizes comprehensive datasets, user-centred approaches, consumer targeting, and multiple mechanisms extending ‘beyond feedback.’ This chapter also highlights opportunities for utilizing ‘big’ smart metering data to understand consumers and their energy practices using quantitative methods. Chapter 7 presents a novel model for intervention design for sustainability as an outcome of a conceptual review. The proposed ENGAAGGE model presents an integrated model for intervention design that bridges the limitations from the current disciplinary silos for collective change. The paper provides a comprehensive review of existing intervention approaches (social marketing, community based social marketing, social practice theory, and design thinking), highlights the key elements for intervention design, and proposes the ENGAAGGE model that incorporates the strengths of existing approaches, while addressing their respective limitations. Therefore, the outcomes of this chapter provide innovative opportunities for application in future research and practice for collective change. This dissertation research brings novel contributions to theory and practice. First, this research provides an innovative application of the energy cultures framework to the residential smart grid and delivers a new framing for a smart and sustainable energy culture. The holistic understanding developed from applying this framework delivers insights for household smart grid engagement applicable to future program design. Second, the IHD segmentation analysis extends research on smart grid-enabled feedback and consumer response by the combination of a large-scale cohort and consumer segmentation. The research outcomes deliver critical recommendations for future programming to include consumer targeting and user-centred design. Third, the longevity and mixed-methods approach of the EHMS study provides novel and detailed contributions to smart grid energy cultures and engagement research to test with broader audiences. These outcomes provide insights for consumer engagement for long-term engagement and re-engagement relevant for residential smart grid programming. Fourth, the conceptual review and integrated model presented in Chapter 7 bring critical contributions to the sustainability engagement literature and provide substantial opportunities for application in future research and practice. In conclusion, this dissertation research delivers novel contributions to smart grid research for engaging consumers beyond the meter.
Cite this version of the work
Bronwyn Lazowski (2019). Engaging beyond the meter: Encouraging residential energy management using smart grid tools. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/14802
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