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Dr Phil Grünewald to co-lead £8.7m Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory

The Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL) is a 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), that will establish a national energy data platform to help facilitate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

Infographic showing the schematic for the Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory

Schematic outlining the Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory project

Energy use in homes is responsible for almost a fifth of UK carbon emissions, and is 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 solutions. 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.

Dr Grünewald and his colleagues’ work with the EDOL will address this by providing a high-resolution data resource that will track energy use in real households, helping us to gain an understanding of how, why, and when domestic activity is impacting energy demand and associated carbon emissions. This work has become increasingly urgent in light of recent global energy prices.

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?

The University of Oxford will lead on instrumentation and analysis, and qualitative research, overseen by Dr Grünewald and Dr Tina Fawcett (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford), who will lead on the social research aspect of the project. Oriel’s Jackson Senior Research Fellow in Energy, Professor Charlie Wilson, will take on a consultative role in the EDOL, having played a key part in the successful funding bid. Professor Tadj Oreszczyn (UCL Energy Institute) is the Principal Investigator for the project and he and his team at the UCL Energy Institute will be leading on data collection, analysis, and governance, as well as overall management of the project.

“This collaboration will be unique in providing a detailed, longitudinal resource of UK domestic energy use which will be available to scientists, industry, and policy-makers.” – Phil Grünewald

The project is the culmination of many years of innovative research into household energy use by Dr Grunewald. As a Frank Jackson JRF at Oriel he developed novel data collection tools and most recently with support from the MCS Charitable Foundation, he pioneered his smart meter based data analysis methods to understand when and why households use energy most.

Speaking of the ambitious programme Dr Grünewald said: “EDOL will raise evidence-based policy making to a new level, by providing a scientifically rigorous demand observatory. This collaboration will be unique in providing a detailed, longitudinal resource of UK domestic energy use which will be available to scientists, industry, and policy-makers. The research will be dynamic, able to respond to a fast-moving technological and policy landscape, and will enable us to propose cost-effective smart data solutions and innovation in real-time and at scale.”

Dr Fawcett added: “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.”

Photo of Dr Phil Grunewald and Dr Tina Fawcett with a heat pump

Dr Grünewald (right) and Dr Fawcett (left) are leading the Oxford side of the project

Dr Grünewald is one of a growing cluster of Oriel academics whose research is focused on climate change and recovery, from biodiversity and conservation and the modelling of polar ice-cap melting to carbon neutral energy policy and sustainable economics. Dr Grünewald is part of the Oriel Environmental Group, consisting of Oriel academics from a range of Oxford University departments. The group shares inter-disciplinary insights and supports the College’s own decarbonisation and biodiversity gain.