Making flexibility happen effectively and equitably

The aim of this project is to generate new evidence and to develop methods and tools that can be used to release demand side flexibility with the most appropriate interventions, in a manner that is effective as well as equitable. The methods and tools will be designed to take into account the flexibility needs of the energy system and the flexibility availability within various sectors (as determined by the research in project #1 ) and will be informed by the analysis in project #2  to ensure just distribution of benefits.

Specifically, our first task is to collate existing data and evidence from trials to assess the potential for time of use (ToU) tariffs from the electricity grid perspective, and their impacts across different population segments. Automation-based solutions such as smart plugs and/or bidirectional smart meters will also be considered based on data from current and recent trials across the UK. An activity and appliance-based model is being developed as part of this task, alongside a range of statistical analyses, to assess scale-up of such solutions to harness flexibility, and to report on the potential for ToU tariffs and automation-based solutions. This will be achieved in collaboration with the Governance and Place themes.

The second task in this project is to plug the gaps in existing data and trials by recruiting new household samples to explore a wide range of solutions to systematically harness flexibility (e.g. peak pricing, smart EV charging with vehicle to grid (V2G)/vehicle to home (V2H), and smart plugs). Stated choice experiments will be used to understand consumer behaviour and flexibility, and smart meters and a virtual energy service provider will be used to analyse and validate the demand response. Given that the timing of energy demand is fundamentally derived from people’s activities, an activity-based approach with microeconometric models of consumer behaviour will be adopted to analyse the data. Models of consumer response and time use activities will also be used to interface with energy network models to support the development of flexibility-based grid solutions. This piece of work will be undertaken in collaboration with the Futures and Equity themes.

The third task in this project is to explore the feasibility of Positive Energy Buildings (PEB) and Positive Energy Districts (PED) alongside the contribution to flexibility of building energy efficiency from a technoeconomic perspective. Given the need to upgrade most of the existing stock, it seeks to explore under which building retrofit scenarios we can achieve a PED and examine the level of flexibility that it can afford. A Cambridge-based case study on PEB and PED will be undertaken with ‘Flexibility Rooms’ where citizens share views around automation, flexibility and alignment in their everyday life and generate innovative ideas on which parts of society flexibility will originate from (e.g. mobility, waste, workspace, removing fixed working hours in the office).

Pulling the above three threads together, this project will aim to assess the costs and benefits of different demand-side flexibility options, based on a number of residential and non-residential case studies. This will be achieved by interfacing microeconometric models of consumer behaviour and choice, based on an activity and needs paradigm, with energy network models to estimate costs and benefits.

Research questions:

  • The fundamental research question being addressed in this project is: How can capacity and willingness to provide flexibility be scaled up realistically to support system decarbonisation and resilience, while ensuring that the benefits of flexibility are widely accessible? In answering this question, we will assess a variety of methods and tools that can be used to release demand-side flexibility with the most appropriate interventions, in a manner that is effective as well as equitable.