UK PV owners have ‘greater understanding of how they consume electricity’

Brits who own a solar PV array demonstrate a greater understanding of how their household consumes electricity, according to a study by the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR).

More than 9,000 customers’ electricity usage was analysed as part of the study, which is claimed to be one of the largest qualitative studies of consumer electricity use ever recorded. A large number of those taking part of the study have low carbon technologies installed, including heat pumps, electric vehicles and solar PV.

The research discovered that: “PV ownership leads to more active ways of relating to energy – whereby individuals engage in the calculation of their own energy use and production, as well as in monitoring and managing their use to a greater extent than in other households.”

However, the study has also revealed that solar owners’ consumption habits are being shaped by “new conventions focused on investment and the potential financial returns that PV can bring based on a logic of exporting electricity to earn a return from the feed-in tariff”.

This would suggest that solar owners prefer to export generated energy in order to benefit from the 4.64p/kWh export tariff. However, consuming the electricity generated onsite actually proves far more beneficial to a PV owner – a fact that the research found is not being effectively communicated. The study notes: “Onsite use of power is not widely recognised as a way to maximise financial benefits for PV owners. This creates a considerable opportunity for network operators to engage with consumers to identify the potential and value of using PV power onsite and attenuate the flow of PV generated power into low voltage networks”.

As part of the study more than 1,250 residential and 150 small business customers completed an online survey conducted by Durham University and National Energy Action. The university also carried out face-to-face social interviews with a further 250 customers.

Commenting on the results of the electricity consumption study, Dr Gareth Powells, Durham University, said: “The way people use electricity has changed dramatically in the last decade. People are much more reliant on technologies such as laptops and smart phones and the electrification of vehicles and heating is becoming more popular, so our findings reveal some really fascinating insights into how people are using electricity and how much they are prepared to be flexible in this use. We’ve also found evidence that as time and space boundaries between home and work are becoming more blurred, with more people working from home or working flexible hours for example, their use of electricity and how they relate to the grid is also starting to change.

“The study has also highlighted a greater awareness of energy use in solar PV customers. In particular PV owners with smart meters and in-home energy monitors found they helped them to better understand their own energy use and generation.”

Partly funded by Ofgem’s Low Carbon Network Fund and led by Northern Powergrid, the findings from the project will be used to help enhance monitoring and smart meters. All findings will also be shared with other network operators to help them prepare for the move towards a low carbon energy infrastructure.