Energy planning for the homes of the future


Friday, 16 July, 2021


Energy planning for the homes of the future

How might digital lifestyles within the home affect energy planning for future residential living?

The Future Home Life report, published by Emerging Technologies Research Lab (ETLab) at Monash University, seeks to address this question by examining the evolution of Australian home life and the impact that it is having on electricity consumption.

A team of researchers from ETLab have uncovered changing digital lifestyles and emerging home trends of everyday Australians, and how these activities are likely to affect energy planning for the future.

The report presents 45 trends and 10 principles to inform energy planning and forecasting for future home life, as part of the Digital Energy Futures project. The research is supported by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects Funding Scheme in partnership with Monash University, Ausgrid, AusNet Services and Energy Consumers Australia.

Associate Professor Yolande Strengers, co-author of the report, explains how Australians are expanding the range of activities in their homes and subsequently spending more time in them.

“What’s more, people anticipate that the home will become even more important to them as they age, with health care and aged care increasingly home-based. That all has consequences for energy demand,” said Strengers.

The team investigated seven areas of home life where the majority of energy demand and peak electricity demand takes place at present or is anticipated to increase in the future. These include charging and mobility, cooking and eating, heating and cooling, and working and studying from home.

As emerging technologies, platforms and services become part of people’s digital lifestyles, their activities across all these areas are changing, along with their relationship with energy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the lifestyle trends we uncovered, but many householders we spoke to expect them to continue. For instance, people are becoming more interested in health and care technologies, such as air purifiers, to remove allergens and pathogens related to bushfire smoke, pets or pollen, or alleviate concerns about the spread of coronavirus,” said Strengers.

Entertainment, recreation and leisure pursuits are anticipated to become more important to home life. People are embracing a range of emerging entertainment technologies like virtual reality, setting up elaborate gaming consoles and establishing home cinemas. They are also using more devices simultaneously in different parts of the home, which may increase energy demand for heating and cooling.

Dr Kari Dahlgren, co-author and Research Fellow in the ETLab, said innovative, future-focused social science research can help energy planning and forecasting take into account diverse households.

“It’s important that energy sector planning takes into account how emerging trends will unfold differently across households; for example, the rate of growth in apartment living, more people working from home and vulnerable consumers’ interests should be considered in the development of our future energy system,” said Dahlgren.

Lynne Gallagher, CEO of Energy Consumers Australia and an industry partner on the Digital Energy Futures project, said the Future Home Life report provides an important contribution to understanding consumer behaviour and how consumers think about and use energy.

“The report identified that households are becoming increasingly diverse both in terms of the technology they have and the way they use it to manage their energy, which means the timing and level of energy use is also more diverse. It’s also apparent that the way industry thinks consumers will use technology are not necessarily borne out in practice,” said Gallagher.

“A better understanding of consumer behaviour means we can identify more effective ways to design new energy services and markets that meet consumers’ needs, helping us achieve a modern, flexible and affordable system that delivers energy to households when and how they want it.”

As well as identifying 45 emerging trends, the Future Home Life report recommends 10 key principles for future home life to help guide and inform energy forecasting, energy policy and demand management programs.

The principles include accounting for diverse forms of digital DIY, the increasing insecurity and ongoing transition of people’s futures that will resist segmentation and complicate forecasting, the growing importance of care as a moral imperative to ensure health and wellbeing that is creating new energy demands, and expecting accelerating work–life flexibility and home-based working.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Artur

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