Implications and access to benefits of flexibility

Unlocking more demand-side flexibility – such as through changing when electricity is used at home – should help keep electricity costs lower for all users as less new generation and network infrastructure needs to be built. However, there is potential for groups who are less able to offer this flexibility to miss out on direct benefits such as access to incentives and cheaper billing periods, or to have to make greater compromises to realise these benefits. If flexibility drives inequity, this risks undermining the social contract on which a Net Zero transition is built. This project aims to further elucidate the implications of the flexibility transition, and identify how ability and willingness to provide flexibility can be widened.

A key determinant of households’ capacity to be flexible is access to large electrical loads and storage, like heat pumps, electric vehicles, and batteries. Such access is more difficult for those without the permission or means to install such technologies – such as social or private tenants and leaseholders. The first part of the project will analyse what works in widening flexibility capacity and participation, for whom, and in what contexts.

Social and technical characteristics such as household size, work/education schedules, cultural factors, building fabric, and technology ownership determine the extent to which households can be flexible and therefore get financial benefit. Such benefit may also depend on compromises on the quality of energy service received (for example, limits on the times that certain appliances can be run). The second part of the project will investigate what the key interactions are between flexibility provision, energy service quality/cost, and everyday life, and how this may differ depending on household and individual characteristics, wider context, and flexibility service design.

Research questions:

  • What works in broadening access to the benefits of demand-side flexibility provision, for whom, in what contexts, and how?
  • What are the key interactions are between flexibility provision, energy service quality/cost, and everyday life, and how this may differ depending on household and individual characteristics, wider context, and flexibility service design?