Unlocking the Potential of Distributed Flexibility for a Sustainable Energy Future

Posted in: Climate change, Data, politics and policy, Science and research policy, UK politics, Uncategorised

Dr Anna Chatzimichali is researcher and an educator in the field of design research. Her main research interest is the deployment of technology in socio-technical systems and her expertise is in the area of product development strategy. 

As the world strives to achieve net-zero emissions and transition to renewable energy sources, it is evident that our current energy system lacks the necessary distributed flexibility. Recognising this challenge, Ofgem, the UK's independent energy regulator, has called for input to shape a common vision of distributed flexibility - "The Future of Distributed Flexibility." In response, a team of researchers from the University of Bath (Dr Anna Chatzimichali), the University of Bristol (Dr Ed Atkins), and the University of Strathclyde (Prof Sonja Oliveira) working on the EPSRC funded project GLOW have outlined key points for consideration in the domestic energy sector. The response, led by Dr Chatzimichali, highlights the importance of socially intelligent systems and evidence-based research in realising the potential of distributed flexibility in the domestic energy sector.

What is a Socially Intelligent Energy System? For a distributed flexible and socially-smart energy system to function, it is essential to have a deep understanding of how peoples’ routines and physical surroundings interact with energy use. By focusing on social practices that drive household demand and the socio-technical implications of such practices both individually and collectively, we can better interact with patterns of peak load and reduce stress on the energy system. This means that the distributed flexible energy system can “identify "good" or "bad" locations and times to use electricity by also considering the importance of energy use rhythms in homes and neighbourhoods. This way, we can create an energy system which is more stable, flexible, and adaptable to the needs of the people

Future energy must be user-centric, data-rich, and digital. However, the primary focus should be on comprehending how socially smart and collectively managed energy systems that integrate social, spatial, and technical energy use can operate effectively. To achieve this, at the heart of vision we must position the collective capabilities of energy users across various social contexts and spatial scales to consider the multidimensional and multimodal character of energy demand. Placing the users at the heart of the vision, will ensure that the energy transition plan considers their diverse needs and fosters a sense of ownership and participation.

Currently, there is a lack of empirical research on the socio-technical and spatial aspects of Home Energy Management (HEM) and broader Consumer Energy Resource (CER) technologies. To establish a clearer vision for distributed flexibility, evidence-based research using mixed methods, including large-scale field studies across different socioeconomic and geographic contexts, is essential. This comprehensive analysis is essential to provide a better understanding of the socio-technical implications of an energy transition plan that places distributed flexibility at its core.

By embracing these insights, policymakers and stakeholders can collaboratively design an energy system that is responsive, sustainable, and meets the needs of individuals and communities.

The research team is currently organising an expert workshop in Bristol "Socially Intelligent Home Energy Networks - Views from Bristol Residents." This workshop, taking place on June 29th 2013 at the Engine Shed, Bristol, aims to share additional insights from their work on developing socially intelligent approaches to home energy demand management in the UK. Limited spaces are available here.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.

Posted in: Climate change, Data, politics and policy, Science and research policy, UK politics, Uncategorised


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