UCL Energy Institute


New £8 million Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory will help UK reach net-zero

12 January 2023

UCL Energy Institute and the University of Oxford will jointly lead a five-year project to collect high-resolution data on energy usage in UK homes. Findings from the project will help inform strategies to meet UK net-zero targets.

Image of a woman holding a smart meter and a cup of tea

Energy use in homes is responsible for almost a fifth of UK carbon emissions, and the biggest driver of increased energy demands during the peak winter period. If the UK is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, domestic energy will have to stop using natural gas and transition to a low-carbon system. However, there is currently little information on how this will impact patterns of energy usage, and whether this will overlap with other changes to the UK’s energy system, including the increased uptake of electric cars and heat pumps.

UCL Energy Institute and the University of Oxford will lead an £8.7m research project to establish an Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL) in the UK. The five-year programme, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation) and working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will establish a national energy data platform to help facilitate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

By providing a high-resolution data resource that will track energy use in real households (with informed consent of participants), we can understand how, why, and when domestic activity is impacting energy demand and associated carbon emissions.

EDOL will develop a range of innovative methods – including innovations emerging around AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) - for monitoring not only the energy consumed by different appliances, but also the different energy-using activities that make up daily life at home.

EDOL will consist of three elements:

  1. An ‘Observatory’ of 2000 representative UK households equipped with sensors to record the energy used by occupants, their appliances, and their behaviours. The anonymised data will then be analysed by researchers to better understand patterns of energy demand in our homes.
  2. Forensic’ analyses of sub-samples of homes that have novel or lesser-known forms of energy demand (for instance, smart charging of electric vehicles). This could include detailed surveys, interviews, and in-depth monitoring. 
  3. Field laboratories’ of 100-200 households in which policies, technologies, business models, and other interventions can be tried out and compared to relevant control groups in the Observatory. This will allow the researchers to answer novel questions, such as: 'How flexible is the time when people choose to charge their electric vehicles?', or 'Does installing a heat pump have unintended consequences such as increased tumble drying of clothes due to lower radiator temperatures?'

UCL Energy Institute will be leading on data collection, analysis, and governance, as well as overall management of the project. UCL will build on relevant experience developed via the Smart Energy Research Lab (SERL) project, bringing specific expertise regarding innovative techniques for analysing smart meter data. SERL is an EPSRC funded research resource that provides a secure, consistent and trusted channel for researchers to access high-resolution energy data. 

Prof Tadj Oreszczyn, Professor of Energy and Environment at UCL Energy Institute, and Principal Investigator for the project, said:

In order to tackle the serious challenges facing our society such as fuel poverty, the energy cost crisis and climate change, we need accurate real-world energy consumption data combined with additional data-streams from, for example, sensors and smart home devices, to facilitate innovative research. EDOL is a major step forward in enabling research for public benefit using cutting edge technology and research techniques.”