UCL News


UCL to co-lead new £8 million project to help UK reach net-zero

16 January 2023

UCL and the University of Oxford will jointly lead a new £8.7m, five-year project to establish an Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL), which aims to generate data on energy usage in UK homes and inform strategies to meet net zero targets.

Smart home technology conceptual banner. Building consists digits and connected with icons of domestic smart devices. illustration concept of System intelligent control house on blue background. IOT.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation), the team involving UCL Energy Institute will work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to create the national energy data platform.

By providing a high-resolution data resource that will track energy use in real households, the project aims to help us understand how, why, and when domestic activity is impacting energy demand and associated carbon emissions.

Project Principal Investigator, Professor Tadj Oreszczyn (UCL Energy Institute), 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.”

Currently, energy use in homes is responsible for almost a fifth of UK carbon emissions, with the biggest driver of increased energy demands seen during the peak winter period. If the UK is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, domestic energy will need to phase out natural gas and transition to a fully electric 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.

The EDOL will develop a range of innovative methods – including innovations emerging around AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) - for monitoring the energy consumed by different appliances and the different energy-using activities that make up daily life at home.

The EDOL will consist of three elements, including an ‘Observatory’ of 2000 representative UK households equipped with sensors to record 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.

‘Forensic’ analyses of sub-samples of homes that have novel or lesser-known forms of energy demand (for instance, smart charging of electric vehicles) will also be carried out via surveys, interviews, and in-depth monitoring. 

Lastly, the project will include the creation of ‘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 questions such as: 'How flexible is the time when people choose to charge their electric vehicles?' and 'Does installing a heat pump have unintended consequences such as increased tumble drying of clothes due to lower radiator temperatures?'

Dr Tina Fawcett (University of Oxford) said: “EDOL is a really important, long-term investment in energy demand research, which will enable us to understand current and future household energy use as never before.

“The experiments with EDOL households will allow us to explore who benefits or loses from different social, technical and economic energy interventions. This will help provide the evidence we need to create a just energy transition.”

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.