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Inside smart homes and workplaces: How are/will people react to the changing environment?


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Presentation at Welsh Government event on Smart Homes and Workplaces

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Inside smart homes and workplaces: How are/will people react to the changing environment?

  1. 1. Inside Smart Homes and Workplaces How are/will people react to the changing environment?
  2. 2. ‘Smartification’ and energy • Background issue: the need to decarbonise energy production, render energy more affordable, and more secure (energy trilemma) • Key question: where are opportunities & obstacles relating to how people use energy? • Smart homes: energy as central focus, with two strategies ▫ Creating smart consumers through real-time information ▫ Automating energy management • Possible problems ▫ Insensitivity to constraining effect of social practices ▫ Insensitivity to biographical attachments to identities and values Source:
  3. 3. Smart metering and behaviour change • 2015 Research for DECC by Environmental Change Institute, Oxford, the University of Ulster, and the Tavistock Institute • Key findings: ▫ Well-designed smart meters can assist with noticeable behaviour change ▫ But needs close support ▫ Also need to be used in particular ways (‘monitoring’ not ‘information’
  4. 4. Embedded practices • Practice theory ▫ Individual behaviour is constrained by shared practices ▫ Practices require particular infrastructures ▫ They are associated with cultural meanings Shove and Southerton (2000) – energy implications of freezers, microwaves, ready meals Convenience Practices constrain behaviour by making it easier or necessary to act in certain ways
  5. 5. Energy Biographies: the meaning of comfort Pat: But no, we are not very green- thinking people cos we use too much heat [Neil chuckles] Neil: We like to keep warm. Pat: We do like to keep warm. […] Pat: We do do short sleeves but we do like to be comfortable. Fiona: …Why do you prefer to have the heating on rather than jumpers? Neil: I think to sit indoors and not have jumpers on, you know. Pat: Just to be, to feel comfortable. Neil: Just like to feel comfortable. Pat: I hate to feel bunged up Unintended outcomes of standardised design • Ozaki & Shaw (2014): cultural diversity in cooking practices undermines smart ventilation systems • Against the illusion of the ‘universal home and user’-
  6. 6. Energy Biographies –case sites & methodology • Funded by RCUK from 2011-2016 • EBs approach uses qualitative longitudinal interviews (3 over 18 months) and visual methods (participant photos/films) • Can biographical stories of lifecourse change make tangible hidden aspects of how and why people use energy in particular ways? ▫ Past experiences ▫ Anticipated futures Lammas, West Wales Royal Free Hospital (RFH), London Peterston, Cardiff Ely, Cardiff
  7. 7. Reflecting on smart homes 3rd round interviews – films about everyday energy futures
  8. 8. Ambivalence about convenience (Groves et al 2016) ‘We don’t think about it twice I mean putting the microwave on or the kettle on or the cooker on […] do I really need to do this? You just kind of do it and then even if you don’t drink the cup of tea or you change your mind later the kettle has boiled’ Monica (RFH) ‘Even if all the electricity was coming from renewable, Green sources I think it would still bug me a little bit because it’s the heedlessness of it and the lack of mindfulness and the […] just that, that kind of carelessness of it all. Jonathan (Peterston) ‘Like the fridge that re-orders […] I still think it sort of dumbs us down as a kind of society and replaces our you know ingenuity and our thinking, free thinking with controlled you know thinking and you know computerisation of everything.’ Dennis (RFH) ‘And the heat pump we are getting is a smart heat pump which it can activate, it can close the windows for you; it can turn the microwave on. It’s got that whole thing. We can’t imagine using any of those facilities at all … In that sense the dream is not really sold to me any more […] it’s well documented that convenience has not really brought more wellbeing. So modern life, for all its convenience, we now see more people working longer hours and all that stuff. .’ Rachel (Ely)
  9. 9. Smart living, fragility and control ‘[talking about Ch4 film] all the gadgets I mean that was you know similar to the bloody [Monsanto] house you know you’re hungry and the electricity is down and you can’t, you know you can’t have a shower because you can’t turn on the tap you know!’ Vanessa (Lammas) ‘a log fire’s is quite homely but obviously they didn’t picture that in the future because its hard work making a log fire whereas they just press a button and they’ve got warmth or coolness or you know whatever they needed.’ Sarah (RFH) ‘Yeah but I don’t like [gas central heating]. I look back and I think actually I see for me how I had no connection with it […] whereas when the wood’s there and you see the fire going you think maybe I’ll just turn the fire down cos the pile of wood is shrinking. [With central heating] there’s no connection with the fuel that is actually being burned to produce this heat. Emmanuelle (Lammas)
  10. 10. Energy biographies and smart futures – key points • Technologies and social practices interact – sometimes in very unexpected ways • People’s personal and interpersonal attachments shape how they interact – sometimes subversively – with technologies • Qualitative narrative interviews can help explore these potential interactions • By linking biographical pasts and anticipated futures they create opportunities for people to reflect on how energy matters to them • This offers opportunities for them to reflect on desirability and viability of potential futures (like a ‘smart society’)
  11. 11. Sunday 5th February 2017 Kabir Dhawan, resident of New Capital Quay, London (heating managed by e.on) [© Guardian Media Group 2017] “Any company – including the property developer – can set itself up as a District Heating supplier without a licence, and a full list of those in operation is not yet publicly available.” “Using e.on’s own estimates of consumption for a one-bed flat, he reckons that he is paying twice what he should for heat and hot water.” “Dhawan fears that he will struggle to sell or let his flat because of the high costs and the service is a monopoly.”
  12. 12. From Energy Biographies to FLEXIS • Engineering-social science research consortium in Wales • Revisiting “stories of change” to understand potential social impacts of energy system transitions • Socio-technical focus – expert imaginaries and effects of interventions in everyday homes, plus siting/risk controversies • Planned work around district heating in Caerau and TATA steel
  13. 13. Key references • Shove, E., and Dale Southerton. 2000. “Defrosting the Freezer: From Novelty to Convenience: A Narrative of Normalization.” Journal of Material Culture 5 (3): 301–19. • Groves, C., K. Henwood, F. Shirani, C. Butler, K. Parkhill, and N. Pidgeon. 2016. “The Grit in the Oyster: Using Energy Biographies to Question Socio- Technical Imaginaries of ‘smartness.’” Journal of Responsible Innovation 3(1) 4–25. • Groves, C., K. Henwood, C. Butler, K. A. Parkhill, F. Shirani, and N. Pidgeon (2015). “Energy Biographies: Narrative Genres, Lifecourse Transitions and Practice Change.” Science, Technology & Human Values 41 (3): 483–508. • Groves, C., K. Henwood, C. Butler, K. A. Parkhill, F. Shirani, and N. Pidgeon (2016). “Invested in Unsustainability? On the Psychosocial Patterning of Engagement in Practices.” Environmental Values 25 (3): 309–328. • Energy Biographies Research Report – online at