Project period: July – November 2016 

GW4 community leads 

University of Bath: Ian Walker (PI) 
University of Bristol: Chris Preist 
Cardiff University: Wouter Poortinga 
University of Exeter: Aleksander Pavic 


Energy networks are scaled for a short window of peak demand in the early evening. This is costly for operators, whose infrastructure is essentially over specified most of the time. And there are serious environmental consequences: it is gas and coal power stations that ramp up to meet peak demand. 

These issues could be addressed if domestic users shifted some high-consumption behaviours away from peak times. Time-varying prices are one possible mechanism to push consumers to do this, and these will imminently become feasible with national smart-meter rollouts. However, trials of variable tariffs have so far seen only limited behaviour change. Notably, these trials have been small and the tariffs have been implemented without reference to end-user psychology – particularly the literature on how people (don’t) understand their own energy consumption. Except for one study, non-financial incentives for time-shifting have not yet been explored and there is only one study on how time-varying information might be interpreted. At the policy level, we need research on whether variable tariffs and smart metering might introduce issues of energy justice and data privacy. Filling such knowledge gaps could provide a transformational shift in energy practice and policy. 

Project summary 

The initiator funding formed an interdisciplinary community of academics from engineering, psychology, social computing and policy studies.  

The community held two meetings. The first meeting brought academics and stakeholders (industry, government and charities) together and facilitated discussions which outlined stakeholder concerns, needs and ideas for research areas. The community followed this with a grant writing workshop to turn ideas from the first meeting into a funding bid. The community is no longer active.