Less is More findings available

Lessons from locally-led behaviour change interventions to reduce electricity demand

22 July 2015

Less is More is more or less complete, but we hope it will have a lasting impact on the way the communities involved view their energy demand. Funded by Ofgem (Low Carbon Networks Fund) and managed by CSE on behalf of Western Power Distribution (WPD), the project worked in ten substation areas within WPD’s network, aiming to help households cut their power consumption (and bills) and shift their demand away from peak times.

The project was an innovative attempt to use demand-side interventions to support the work of the distribution network operator (WPD), and to determine whether such interventions could be used to defer the need for reinforcements to distribution networks. CSE worked with a range of other energy agencies across England and Wales to help deliver the interventions and support the communities, including Marches Energy Agency, Community Energy Plus, Severn Wye Energy Agency and The National Energy Foundation.

As an incentive to take part and as thanks for residents’ efforts, the participating communities were rewarded with a sum of money that was linked to reductions in their electricity consumption during the project.

You can read more about the rewards and what they’ve been earmarked for here.

Through the research, WPD aimed to test how community-led behaviour change interventions affect electricity demand. Under what conditions do interventions reliably reduce demand? What is the possible value of such interventions to future network management and planning?

The project hasn’t produced the meaningful quantitative evidence hoped for, and that was needed to categorically answer these questions, but a huge amount has been learned in the process – most significantly about the design of such research programmes that back innovative, low-tech, demand side solutions.

CSE's Rachel Coxcoon managed the project and spoke about some of the difficulties faced:

“The project was incredibly challenging to deliver, not least because of the timetables we had to work to (with the Low Carbon Networks Fund closing in March 2015) and the geographic spread of the communities involved.  Some really valuable lessons were learned, some of the most important being ‘what not to do’ if we were to implement such a scheme again!”

A great array of community engagement activities was trialled in the different neighbourhoods. Doors were knocked on, energy monitors and LED lights were given away…there were newsletters, coffee mornings, slow cooker campaigns and prize draws, ‘wash at 30’ campaigns and packs, home visits, thermal images of homes, outdoor drying equipment such as rotary washing lines provided – and we could go on!

Depending on the type of neighbourhood the approaches had varied results, but for most, embedding the project in the community galvanised action. It proved effective to have a consistent individual to deliver engagement activities and be the face of the project, and then supplement this with local knowledge and connections, possibly with residents as project ambassadors.

One Bristol resident noted that it was important for her to see who in her community was taking part, and how this strengthened her sense of her community:

"I get quite excited about the idea of a community spirit and people caring, that being visible, more exciting and more motivating and we’re all in it together".

Two very important lessons were learned on the base-level design of the project. Firstly, the choice of individual substations, rather than entire neighbourhoods, as the unit at which monitoring and intervention work took place limited engagement. None of the substation areas related to a recognised community boundary and so had no resonance with local people.

Yet positively, the qualitative analysis shows that there was a degree of engagement in all communities. Core groups of householders became active in the project, and the community representatives from the charity partners (who oversaw interventions in different areas of the country) became a recognised source of authentic advice and support.

A second drawback was the time scale of the project. This was not sufficient to generate and sustain the level of community buy-in that would be needed to deliver a lasting change in demand patterns, and some of the most engaged residents expressed sadness that the project had to end when it did.

The full report has plenty more insights, and is well worth a read by anyone hoping to undertake demand side interventions to manage local electricity demand.

The report appendicies are can be downloaded here.

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