Energy-Feedback Symposium

1st ever Energy-Feedback Symposium

“Feedback in energy demand reduction: Examining evidence and exploring opportunities”

Edinburgh, 4-5 July 2016

Energy feedback – the provision of energy-consumption information to energy-users – forms a core component of many initiatives that aspire to shift or reduce energy demand. It features in both domestic and non-domestic settings and takes many forms including utility bills, in-home-displays, phones apps, emails from facilities managers, advice from friends and guidance from consumer and business support centres.

In recent years, the world-wide roll out of smart-metering has led to a surge in feedback-related initiatives with academics, policy-makers and those in industry keen to identify if and how it can promote energy efficiency and reduction. With this in mind, this Symposium sought to bring together all those with an interest in energy-feedback to share the latest empirical evidence in this arena and to reflect on current and future research, policy and practice in the field.

Over 40 speakers and 40 participants shared insights from academia, industry and policy and we were pleased to be joined by key note speakers:

  • Sarah Darby, University of Oxford
  • Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, Navigant
  • Tom Hargreaves, University of East Anglia

As a permanent output of the event we are able to share the following:

1) Symposium Booklet containing extended abstracts of all presentations given [TEDDINET Energy Feedback Symposium_July 2016_Full programme and abstracts]

[Thanks to Evan Morgan (University of Edinburgh), the papers have also been made into a Mendeley group for easy citation and sharing – https://www.mendeley.com/groups/9024641/teddinet-energy-feedback-symposium-2016/]

2) Speaker Presentations where author permission has been provided [see below]

3) “What is the most pressing question in energy feedback” Participant responses to this question crowd-sourced during the Symposium [Most pressing questions in energy feedback]

4) Invited Blogs reflecting on the Symposium by Alexa Spence (University of Nottingham) and Jack Kelly (Imperial College London) [see below]

Building Research & Information has expressed an interest in creating a special issue based on the Symposium, so watch this space for details!

 We would like to thank all those who took the time and effort to come along to the event and helped to make it such an interesting and productive few days!

Convenors: Kathryn Buchanan (University of Essex) & Sam Staddon (University of Edinburgh)


Thank you so much for organising and running this fantastic seminar! You brought together all research areas which helped to form an integrated and holistic picture of the topic. Very well done in terms of topics, speakers and all practicalities!


PRESENTATIONS given during the Symposium

KEY NOTE 1 Sarah Darby, University of Oxford Feedback in context – a reflection

SESSION 1 – ‘Delivering Feedback

KEY NOTE 2 Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, Navigant

SESSION 2 – ‘Advanced Feedback: Disaggregation & Visuals

SESSION 3 – ‘Learning Lessons & Limits

KEY NOTE 3 Tom Hargreaves, University of East Anglia Beyond Energy Feedback

SESSION 4 A – ‘Beyond Domesticity: Feedback Outside of the Home

SESSION 4 B – ‘Linking to Theories & Disciplines

SESSION 5A – ‘Communities & Collectives

SESSION 5B – ‘Gamification of feedback

SESSION 6 – ‘Insights from Industry & Policy

SESSION 7 – ‘Finding a Way Forward: Research in the “Real World”

Interactive session by David Shipworth (UCL) with panel discussants Andrew Charlesworth (DECC), Simon Anderson (Green Energy Options), Sarah Darby (University of Oxford), Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez (Navigant) and Tom Hargreaves (University of East Anglia)

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INVITED BLOGS reflecting on the Symposium

ALEXA SPENCE (University of Nottingham)

Nice one TEDDINET, the Energy Feedback symposium in Edinburgh was a very on point session. And collegiate: shared facilities in the accommodation ensured we all got to know each other a little better than we might have liked (!) but this was offset by a great view of Arthur’s seat (which a couple of us conquered the first morning).

A well-organised event (well done particularly Sam Staddon and Kathryn Buchanan) with short 10-minute presentations (always welcome from me, I can’t sit through long talks) and plenty of extra interactive features, including extra DIY, topic-focused, name tags to help facilitate conversation and a pub quiz during the conference dinner (though why that stupid laughometer got so well rated in that creative idea section I still don’t know – hmph). Good to see such a mixed group of researchers as well, not just in terms of different disciplines but also in terms of different stakeholders – in addition to academics, we had policy makers, NGOs, and industry represented.

The key focus, in line with the title, was on energy feedback and the potential impact on energy savings. We saw some excellent talks utilising different methods and media and which went beyond just simple feedback and which, it was generally agreed, could be useful on its own but had much more potential when combined with other aspects of interventions (e.g., tailored advice, new smart energy technologies). Several speakers also highlighted the need for understanding how feedback helped people to save energy however only some of the research started to meet this need. Beyond the potential of feedback to provide increased visibility of energy use, and increased understanding of where energy is used, Sarah Derby in her keynote, did highlight an interesting idea around the potential for feedback to enable social learning where people discuss and disseminate energy saving understandings to one another; further empirical support still needed for this idea though I think. Disaggregated feedback was also a feature though there was healthy scepticism from a significant proportion of attendees over whether this is a feasible and useful direction for the field.

Notably, a nice range of theoretical perspectives is always evident within the TEDDINET group and this event was no different. However I do agree with Kathryn Buchanan who highlighted it would be good to see a clearer role of theory. Particularly prevalent were HCI (Human Computer Interaction) focused participatory design approaches, individual psychological behaviour change approaches and those based on (the continuingly trendy) practice theory. There were many observations that psychological behaviour change approaches are overly focused on the individual, and I do think this is an important (albeit not new) observation. However I would caution confounding this problem with disciplinary differences. Indeed there are many psychology behaviour change theories that acknowledge and focus on the role of social processes, social behaviour, and civic actions and I would call for more researchers to consider applying, and helping to develop these within the field.

Looking forward to the next one…

JACK KELLY (Imperial College London)

The Energy Feedback symposium was thoroughly thought-provoking and enjoyable. The program was jam-packed with information and informed opinion.

In this blog post, rather than try to give a blow-by-blow account of every talk, I’ll describe two themes which jumped out at me as being especially interesting. My selection will inevitably be subjective and will reflect my background as a computer scientist.

Theme 1: Face-to-face energy advice works well. Can we achieve similar success with automated feedback systems?

During Sarah Darby’s wonderful keynote, Sarah emphasised that face-to-face energy advice can produce sizeable energy reductions if the advisers are unpatronising, knowledgeable and approachable. Later in the day, both Sarah and Andrew Charlesworth from DECC emphasised the important role played by the smart meter installer in providing an introduction to the in-home-display and some basic energy advice. And Rajat Gupta emphasised the importance of face-to-face conversations when discussing thermography images.

During the Q&A to Sarah’s keynote, Nigel Goddard raised the question of how to scale-up this kind of advice using automated services. Later in the day, during his talk, Nigel explained that he wants to build an automated “energy advisor / therapist” that needs to be interactive rather than just providing generic feedback. Then, on the second day, Christopher Weeks spoke briefly about EDF’s ambition to create a system which can deliver personalised feedback via “natural engagement”.

I’m not entirely sure if this is what Nigel or Chris meant; but I’m intrigued by the idea of an automated “energy therapist” which can converse using natural language. I imagine a “Siri-like” system which knows about each user’s appliance-by-appliance energy consumption, building fabric, energy-consuming behaviours etc. and can provide tailored advice including, perhaps, an ability to adjust to each user’s level of background knowledge and provide appropriate visualisations, explanations, estimated benefits etc. It’s certainly a very juicy computer science challenge!

Like most feedback systems, it would presumably still require users to actively engage with the system. The symposium was full of evidence that most people just don’t care enough about their energy consumption to be motivated to engage with feedback systems, no matter how clever those systems are. Supposedly some of the power of face-to-face interactions with (human) energy advisers is that the householder will engage fully with a human adviser whilst they are in the home (because it would be rude not to) and that the adviser can visually inspect the home (e.g. spotting draughty windows). Is there any hope to replicate these in an automated system?

Theme 2: Exactly what are we trying to achieve with feedback? Why? Who benefits? What’s the scope of the study?

During Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez’s fascinating keynote she asked “exactly what are we solving for?”. This plea to be clear about exactly what we’re trying to achieve was echoed by others many times during the symposium. Are we trying to reduce energy consumption? Or increase comfort? Or shift load? Or increase engagement with a utility’s website?   Or sell a product? Or change society? Or increase energy literacy? Or something else?

Christopher Weeks posed the provocative question of “will feedback provide the answer to a customer’s burning question?”.

Tom Hargreaves’ wonderful keynote included a plea to recognise that users don’t set out to use energy. Instead they set out to cook some toast. Or clean their clothes. Or throw a party. Hence, in order to understand what drives energy use (and hence understand how to reduce energy demand), we need to consider a very wide range of influences and “non-energy feedbacks” (such as the kids shouting “Mum! I’m cold!”); many of which crowd out the signal from energy feedback interventions.

The symposium was highly engaging and I learnt a lot. Thank you very much to the organisers, speakers and participants for making it such a wonderful event.

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