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Humanizing heat as a service: Cost, creature comforts and the diversity of smart heating practices in the United Kingdom

20 December, 2020

Humanizing heat as a service: Cost, creature comforts and the diversity of smart heating practices in the United Kingdom

Benjamin K. Sovacool

Mari Martiskainen

Research paper   Digital Society

Benjamin K. Sovacool, Jody Osborn, Mari Martiskainen, Amal Anaam and Matthew Lipson

Why do people heat their homes the way they do? What are the underlying patterns or justifications for their heating preferences and practices? In this study, using data from the Energy Systems Catapult’s Living Laboratory, we present a novel conceptual framework that ties together insights from “lived experiences” research with “narratives and energy biographies.” We synthesize from these approaches the notion of “energy phenomenology,” which holds that heating practices will be mediated by individual identity, experiential preferences and needs, socio-material attachment, and lifestyle changes. In other words, the energy phenomenology framework demands that we understand the lived experiences, practices, and identities that intercede and shape smart heat services and consumption. Then, we test this framework with three sets of primary data—undirected diary studies and blogging, directed diary studies and blogging, and household interviews—involving 100 homes using smart heating controls across Birmingham (West Midlands), Bridgend (Wales), Manchester (Greater Manchester), and Newcastle (Northumberland) in the United Kingdom. We identify seven different phenomenological uses of smart heat—parental care, alleviating pain, fresh air, personal care, zoophilism (caring for pets, animals, and plants), social signaling, and structural fortification. Rather than merely germinating from rational choices based on available information about the likely costs and benefits of their behavior, smart heating—an essential tool for the decarbonisation of buildings, fossil energy, and electricity—is a phenomenological process. Policy and research efforts that fail to appreciate these dynamics risk capturing only a partial and incomplete picture of how and why people heat homes and domestic spaces. The outcome could be that these policies will fail to meet their objective of decarbonizing domestic heating and averting climate change.

Publication details

Sovacool, B.K., Osborn, J., Martiskainen, M., Anaam, A. and Lipson, M. 2020. Humanizing heat as a service: Cost, creature comforts and the diversity of smart heating practices in the United Kingdom. Energy and Climate Change, 1: 100012. doi: Opens in a new tab10.1016/j.egycc.2020.100012 Open access

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