Presentation given at Behave Energy Conference, Oxford, 3-4 September 2014.
Abstract: One of the starting points for assessing the potential for load shifting and demand management in the electricity sector is to understand when energy is used in the home, at work and on the move. The extent to which peak energy demand varies across the week depends on combinations of practices constituting both morning and evening peaks. Moments when several people are carrying out the same activity at the same time may concern peaks in energy demand. Moving beyond the description of practices, very frequent sequences of activities may reveal bundles of practice which may not be changed with exogenous (e.g. price) load shifting interventions. This calls for analytical approaches having the timing of human activities as the central unit of analysis where variations in practices relate to energy demand.
Drawing on a review of existing data on the temporal and spatial performance of social practices as captured through, for example, time-use surveys and national travel surveys we discuss the extremely patchy and partial nature of the data and thus evidence to hand. Whilst we have society-wide time-use data back to the 1960s, the most recent comprehensive study in the UK was in 2000/1 with a simpler study conducted in 2005. Nevertheless, as this paper will show, we are able to use this data to uncover some of the variation in locations, timings, performances and ‘societal synchronisation’ of a range of social practices of crucial importance to energy policy. We therefore focus on the social practices that require a heated home, that involve hot water and that involve lighting and (especially media) appliance use in order to examine what activities constitute energy peak demand, distinguishing between morning and evening peaks and different days of the week.
In so doing the paper reveals the nature of the practices that constitute ‘peaks’ and so provides the basis for a discussion of which kinds of practices are most likely to be ‘shiftable’. At the same time the paper will also consider other implications of ‘peak’ – for example synchronised occupancy is to be welcomed in the provision of neighbourhood heating supplies.
Finally the paper will use the analysis to re-focus discussion on the nature of synchronisation as a property emerging from the interactions of societal and institutional structures (such as working & school hours) with individual and family habituation. As the social practices approach constantly reminds us, there is very little ‘active choice’ in societal synchronisation. As a result of their situation within household and institutional contexts, the ability of individuals to shift the timing and location of their performances of social practices (whether towards or away from ‘peak’) is both unclear and also quite likely to be over-estimated by an atomic individual utility based analysis.