Here comes the sun: The evolution of a Prosuming Project within a social housing estate

Nicolette Fox, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex


This is a case study of how seven families living in social housing started producing and consuming – ‘prosuming’ – solar power and the difference it made to their lives. Solar production can vary depending on weather, seasons and changing daylight hours. Its consumption is also affected by which appliances are used and when. On top of this, households have to negotiate how prosuming fits with domestic routines such as laundering or cooking, as well as with work and family life. As far as I know, this is the first study to examine the evolution of prosuming solar power across four seasons within a disadvantaged community.

The research revealed how prosuming evolved dynamically and made a significant difference to many of the families in the study. The mother who stopped worrying about having to pay for school shoes because of the energy savings she was making. Another who, for at least part of the year, no longer had to choose between cooking a Sunday roast and washing her family’s clothes. The teenager who started to time her clothes washing to coincide with solar generation. And yet at the outset, many of the households ignored the offer of the free solar panels. Prosuming was associated with “posh” homeowners rather than a community in one of the most deprived areas in England (DCLG, 2015). However, what was striking was how quickly this meaning changed. As panels appeared on roofs; knowledge became embodied, and friends shared solar stories, so the physical and social fabric of the estate began to change. Alongside this was a shifting sense of solar entitlement and the desire to share the homemade energy within their community. The research touches on many of the conference themes including the relationship between citizen-consumers and energy. Additionally it engages with a call for more studies to explore not only winners but also “losers in sustainability transitions” (Walker, 2013, pp. 182-83).


I conducted a qualitative study over ten months of seven households using serial interviews. I collaborated with the local authority who put me in touch with their tenants. As Bonevski et al highlight “researchers continue to struggle to access, engage and retain participants from socially disadvantaged groups” (2014, par. 7). I built trust and rapport with the interviewees and all remained involved in the project until the end. However, during the research I amended my methods as my original plan to video an energy tour of the home felt inappropriate for the context of the study. I also realised I did not need an additional method as I was amassing considerable amount of rich interview data that enabled triangulation across time and people.

Results & Conclusion

Using a Social Practice Theory but also drawing on Time Geography (eg Hagerstrand, 1982; Hui and Spurling, 2013; Pred, 1981, Shove et al., 2012; Watson and Shove, 2008) the research analysed prosuming as a voluntary ‘project’ across three stages: adopting, establishing and committing to it. What emerged was a typology of prosuming practitioners – tentative, periodic and transformative

One of the outcomes of the research was peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. I collaborated with the households to produce a booklet that informed the solar programme of three local authorities, as well as being distributed to tenants.  Additionally, I worked with them to produce a film of their lived energy experiences that has had 1100+ views on YouTube. The research is now being used to shape a project on water sustainability and affordability amongst social housing tenants.

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