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Participants at the closing meeting of the Living Labs UK project, with Prof Audley Genus and Mara Iskendarova front centre (photo: Kate Meakin).

Participants at the closing meeting of the Living Labs UK project, with Prof Audley Genus and Mara Iskendarova front centre (photo: Kate Meakin).

Households respond positively to challenge to use less energy

Results from the Living Labs research project in Hastings and St Leonards indicate that families respond positively when challenged to reduce their energy consumption at home. Nick Terdre reports.

As part of the Living Labs project, a pan-European research initiative organised by the ENERGISE consortium, several dozen households in Hastings and St Leonards were challenged to reduce the heating in their sitting rooms to 18°C and to halve the frequency and temperature of their laundry washes.

At a closing event to which participants were invited, the project leaders – Prof Audley Genus and Dr Marfuga Iskendarova of Kingston University, reported that these aims had largely been achieved. “The ENERGISE Living Labs challenged householders in the Hastings/St Leonards area to use less energy by changing everyday practices relating to heating their homes and doing the laundry,” Prof Genus said.

“By and large, participants were up to the challenge and in some cases exceeded it. The project highlights how residents can actively make changes to the way they live and in doing so reduce their impact on the environment.”

Heating levels reduced

As it regards to heating, participants in the study reduced the average temperature of the living area from 20.1°C before the challenge period to 18.5°, and in the main bedroom from 18.3° to 17.4°.

Graph showing the reduction in average washing temperatures from 39 pre-challenge to 37.3 during the challenge.

Graph showing the reduction in average washing temperatures from 39.3°C pre-challenge to 37° during the challenge.

Meanwhile the average temperature of laundry washes was reduced from a baseline 39.3°C to 37°, and even after the study ended, only went back to 37.3°. However, the reduction in the number of weekly wash cycles fell short of target, falling from 3.2 to 2.7.

“Laundry is more sensitive than heating,” Prof Genus told HOT. “But the fact that there was a reduction was quite pleasing. It was a difficult challenge and it was encouraging that people were willing to try.”

The Living Labs project is organised by the ENERGISE (European Network for Research, Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy) consortium and funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Another seven countries – Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland – carried out the same research. Results will be shared at a meeting in Barcelona this autumn, when possible future initiatives will be discussed.

Heating and laundry kits

Participants were provided with kits containing useful objects and tips towards meeting their challenges. The heating kit contained an assortment of teas to keep them warm, woollen socks and the Yahtzee game to give them a social activity, while the laundry kit included an eco-friendly stain remover, a brush-and-lint remover and an apron – all means of reducing the need to wash an item of clothing. They were also asked to keep diaries and took part in interviews.

Prof Genus addresses the closing meeting.

Prof Genus addresses the closing meeting.

Comments by participants showed a positive response to the challenge. One said they found the heating challenge a big one, as they started with a temperature of 22°C, “but it was worthwhile and has impacted our life in a positive way.”

Another said of laundering, “I am thinking a lot more before I wash things and I’m wearing things for longer,” and another that she had reduced the number of washes of kids’ clothes by half.

In some cases there were effects beyond the immediate challenge. One participant reported using the car less, another that they had started reading more about climate change.

Energise Sussex Coast involved

Local community energy group Energise Sussex Coast worked with the researchers, helping them find households willing to participate in the project and acting as a friendly local contact. Since the project ended, they have been available to offer advice on energy saving measures and switching suppliers, Kate Meakin told the meeting.

The households were divided into two groups. One consisted of 20 households which had no contact with each other, and the second of 13 households attached to Hastings mosque, with whom focus group meetings were held. The intention was to see if interaction made any difference to the way the participants met the challenges, Prof Genus said, but the results did not show clearcut differences between the two groups.

“We want to use our findings to inform further research either by the EU or nationally,” he told HOT. “And locally, the local authority, or the people in Energise Sussex Coast, those local agencies might find ways to carry on the good work.”

He and Dr Iskendarova would be holding a session during the Sustainability on Sea festival on 31 August/1 September to publicise further the Living Labs initiative.

He noted that in its recent report to government on measures to tackle climate change, the Climate Change Committee had recommended heating homes to 19°C. “We can plug into things like that!” he said.

Council’s climate commitment

Also present at the closing meeting was Cllr Ruby Cox, who reminded the meeting of the climate emergency motion passed by the council in February and reported that the council had appointed a climate champion, now known to be Cllr Maya Evans.

As part of its commitment to tackling the climate emergency, the council could perhaps draw on the findings of this research project, encouraging people to reduce their personal energy consumption and suggesting ways of doing so. Given the current mood of climate concerns, such a move could gain widespread traction.

Will Brexit bring an end to the UK’s participation in ENERGISE? Not necessarily, said Prof Genus – Switzerland is a member of the consortium though not an EU member. However, if the UK became a non EU member of the consortium, new sources of funding might have to be found.


Posted 12:32 Saturday, May 11, 2019 In: Energy

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