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Limit my Energy Use! An In-Situ Exploration of a Smart Home System Featuring an Adaptive Energy Threshold
An increase of renewable sources of energy is necessary to mitigate climate change. Yet, renewable sources of energy often fluctuate in supply. Furthermore, energy demand also fluctuates. To deal with these fluctuations one suggestion is to time-shift the demand of energy to peaks in energy supply. There is an ongoing increase of information and communication technologies in the energy system, resulting in so-called ‘smart’ energy systems, ‘smart’ energy meters, ‘smart’ appliances, ‘smart’ homes, etc. With this smartness households are considered to be able to contribute to shifting energy demand to peaks in supply. Yet, few currently commercially available smart home systems actually facilitate time-shifting and even highlight other features, such as home security. Some energy feedback systems focus on synchronizing energy demand with supply, but they have been criticized for encouraging only limited energy saving actions. In addition, the use of energy feedback systems usually decreases with time as they often fail to become integrated into existing everyday activities. Can smart homes and energy feedback systems be designed differently? The study presented here aimed at exploring what happens when households are equipped with a smart home system that focus on energy by (i) relating households’ energy use to the status of the energy system and (ii) featuring functions that could make the system an integrated part of existing everyday activities. First, a smart home system, called Ero, was designed and developed. In Ero, households’ energy use is related to what sources of energy that are being used in the energy system through a momentary power threshold. This threshold shows if there is plenty or short of energy with characteristics that the household prefer. When households stay below the energy threshold, they use energy at times when there is plenty of their preferred energy. To facilitate staying under the threshold, households can start, stop, and schedule energy using appliances through Ero. Ero was explored in situ for four autumns and winter months with six residents of a living lab. The participating residents had rather small private rooms and shared kitchens and living rooms. All participants were interviewed and responded to a questionnaire before and after the trial. The findings showed that most of the participants, in different ways, started to relate their energy use to the status of the energy system through the use of Ero. Most of the participants appreciated the idea of having an energy threshold and many of them wanted even stricter energy limitations. Yet, as the participants had a limited number of energy-using appliances, many of them also questioned the extent to which their time-shifting could contribute. Instead, they considered other paths towards a more sustainable energy system to be equally or more important, such as influencing decisions made by companies, organizations, and politicians. To conclude, an energy focused smart home system can facilitate time-shifting energy demand and would be relevant for bigger loads, such as electric vehicles. Yet, such smart home systems cannot be considered a necessity in the quest for a more sustainable energy future.