News Release

New, £8 million Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory will help UK meet net-zero ambitions

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Oxford

Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory

image: Dr Phil Grünewald (left) and Dr Tina Fawcett (right). EDOL will investigate how energy demands may change in the near future – for instance, due to greater uptake of electric vehicles. Image credit: Ian Wallman. view more 

Credit: Image credit: Ian Wallman.


New, £8 million Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory will help UK meet net-zero ambitions

  • University College London and the University of Oxford will jointly lead a five-year project to collect high-resolution data (with informed consent of participants) on energy usage in UK homes.
  • ‘Field laboratories’ will enable specific policies and interventions to reduce carbon emissions from homes to be tested in real-world conditions.
  •  Findings from the project will help inform strategies to enable the UK to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

University College London (UCL) 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.

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.

EDOL will address this by providing a high-resolution data resource that will track energy use in real households (with informed consent of participants), enabling us to 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.

Professor Tadj Oreszczyn (UCL Energy Institute), 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.’

The University of Oxford will lead on instrumentation and analysis, and qualitative research, overseen by Dr Philip Grünewald (Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford) and Dr Tina Fawcett (School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford).

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 Tina Fawcett (Environmental Change Institute), who will lead the social research aspect of the project, 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.’

EPSRC Director for Cross-Council Programmes, Dr Kedar Pandya, said: ‘Accurate, high-resolution data will be crucial to understanding energy usage across UK households and informing new forms of energy usage. With support from Government, the Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory will build on the work of the Smart Energy Research Lab to address this need. It will offer unprecedented scale in providing this data, which will support the decisions needed to help us to reduce carbon emissions and make the switch to Net Zero.’

Notes to editors:

For media enquiries, contact Dr Caroline Wood, University of Oxford: 

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The Smart Energy Research Lab (SERL) is an EPSRC funded research resource that provides a secure, consistent and trusted channel for researchers to access high-resolution energy data.

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About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

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