Less is More

A community-based approach to energy demand management

Project duration: January 2014 to March 2015

In this innovative project for Western Power Distribution (WPD) we looked at how householders connected to a local substation could be encouraged to reduce, or shift, their electricity use, in particular by offering a cash incentive.

The less electricity they used, the more cash they won - hence the name, 'Less is More'.

WPD is one of the UK's distribution network operators (DNOs) - those large firms who manage the infrastructure of ‘wires and pipes’ and ensure that electricity and gas is transmitted from where it is generated to where it is used.

Like other network operators, WPD is busy upgrading its local electricity substations to cope with rising demand for power from our ever-increasing number of appliances, gadgets, electric vehicles etc. But this electricity demand is not spread evenly throughout the day; it peaks at around 7pm.

So if householders could be persuaded to shift their electricity use away from the early evening (e.g. by charging cars at night, or running washing machines in the middle of the day) less money would have to be spent on all these substation upgrades.

And this is why significant sums - up to £5,000 - were available for communities who could reduce their reduce their electricity demand, especially at peak times.

Rachel Coxcoon, CSE’s Head of Local & Community Empowerment, said: “This is a very different kind of energy demand management project, and designing and delivering it was quite a challenge."

Click here for our news story on the findings.

Click here to read about what the community rewards are earmarked for.

Ten substations were identified as suitable for this pilot. They were: Greenbank, Bristol; Bournville, Weston Super Mare; Ely, Cardiff; Highnam, Gloucester; Loughton, Milton Keynes; Tinkers Bridge, Milton Keynes; Belle Vue, Shrewsbury; Silverdale, Newcastle-under-Lyme; Trelissick, Hayle; and Tremorva, Hayle.

In each substation, a monitoring kit was installed which sent hourly consumption data directly to us at CSE and which we presented as real-time graphs on the project website (since closed). Householders in the participating communities could track their collective progress on the website and see how they were measuring up against their targets and the prize money on offer. (For those without internet access, the information on the website was communicated through other means, like leaflet drops, information in public spaces and workshops). People living in the pilot areas got advice, support and simple equipment to help them change their patterns of electricity use.

CSE worked with the two communities in or near Bristol (Easton and Bournville) to help them change their patterns of electricity use, whilst the others were shared among partner energy charities, Marches Energy Agency, National Energy Foundation, Community Energy Plus and Severn Wye Energy Agency. Where possible we (and our partners) tried to stimulate whole-community action, rather than engaging with individual households.

Easton and Weston

CSE staff ran events, publicising the project, giving away freebies and offering energy advice to people in the Bournville (Weston-Super-Mare) and Easton (Bristol) communities. On the Bournville estate, we laid on popular free slow cooker masterclasses with free slow cookers for the residents who came along, encouraging people to shift their energy use away from the peak cooking time. Click here for the news story. We also donated new washing lines for the communal garden areas of the estate, so that more residents can hang their washing outside instead of using electricity-hungry tumble dryers.

Meanwhile, in Easton, a member of Easton Energy Group (our local partner) developed a special energy monitor to help people engage with the project. It's a small device that residents can keep in their homes, and which enabled them to take part in a daily energy-saving challenge at peak time.

Easton was so successful at lowering their peak energy demand and cutting their overall consumption that they earned a cheque for nearly £4,000. Click here to read more. 

Did it work?

Several of the communities involved met or got close to their targets for reducing the peak load and their electricity use overall, so earned sums ranging from £3,000 to £5,000. We are currently (March 2015) analysing the results and will report more fully in due course.

Funding for this pilot project came from Ofgem's Low Carbon Networks programme. CSE was the lead charity partner, carrying out all of the project’s data management, analysis and evaluation.

The image above is a screen-grab showing data from one of the substations. The pink line shows 'actual consumption'. Note how consumption peaks at around 7pm and is lowest around midnight.

The green dotted line is the 'target consumption': in order to receive the full reward for the consumption target, the households around this substation needed to keep their electricity usage at or below this line - and many did so.The blue line is the 'target peak': if the peak daily energy consumption of the community attached to this substation stayed below this line, they received the full peak target reward.

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