Do people matter? Can we get to a low carbon, secure and affordable system without their engagement?

Richard Hoggett, University of Exeter

The energy system is entering a period of fundamental change, in respect to supply, demand and control systems, mainly driven by the digitisation of the electricity system, but also reflecting falling costs for low carbon technologies and the emergence of new technologies and services. Much of this change is happening at the distribution level, including behind the meter in consumers’ homes. As such the energy system is starting to move much closer towards people, who ultimately create energy demand. Given this there are a wide range of expectations about the future role of people within the energy system, across electricity, heat and transport; and there are differing views on the multiple roles that people can or could play e.g. as consumers, citizens, voters, etc. A fundamental question is how important are people in the energy system, do they need to be actively involved, give consent, or can the system change around them? This dialogue session seeks to explore these issues.

Some consumers already play an active role within the energy system, for example by fitting PV onto homes, installing energy efficiency, buying an EV car, and others have become involved within community energy projects, or as investors in renewables, etc. This change has often been despite of policy and regulation, rather than actively driven by it and represents a small proportion of the population.  In contrast, the vast majority of people currently play a very passive role within energy system; they are simply consumers of energy that create demand which the system then provides.

Going forward there are mixed views for what role people should or could play within the energy system. Whilst there some think that people should be to put into the heart of the energy system, there is limited debate on what this actually means or how to enable it to happen. Some argue that people will have to become much more active to: accept new technologies and services; be willing to change their behaviour; and give consent for energy system change and costs, such as new infrastructure in local areas, etc. Others suggest that it is difficult to get engagement and that change can happen without active involvement, examples include: economic approaches that assume people will respond to cost signals; technological solutions such as automated appliances or services that can respond to people and system needs accordingly; or, more legislative approaches, such as ongoing improvements in product standards, improvements in building regulations, etc that don’t require people to make active choices. This dialogue session seeks to explore the importance of people through a panel of five people:

Richard Hoggett from the University of Exeter will chair the session

Rebecca Willis an Independent Researcher and Simon Roberts from the Centre for Sustainable Energy will argue that people are central to achieving a low carbon energy system. They will cover issues such as: people’s role within energy system integration and business models; the need to recognise and engage people as citizens; recognising that people have views on how costs and benefits are distributed, and give social permission for action in their homes and communities.

Dr Emilia Melville from Carbon Co-op and Ragne Low from University of Strathclyde will put forward arguments for why people do not need to be actively engaged, such as: – people don’t have the time or interest to actively participate and will want services and intermediaries that do it for them; we need the economies of scale, not small localised projects; comfort, convenience and economic efficiency are most important for people; global markets drive system change and they do not require participation or involvement; automation will provide demand response and flexibility.

Comments for BIEE Members only.
Sign in or become a member today.

Sign up to our Events Newsletter

To receive email updates about our forthcoming events and news please sign up here.

Sign Up