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From thermal comfort to conflict: the contested control and usage of domestic smart heating in the United Kingdom

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  • Benjamin K. Sovacool
  • Mari Martiskainen, University of Sussex
  • ,
  • Jody Osborn, Energy Systems Catapult
  • ,
  • Amal Anaam, Energy Systems Catapult
  • ,
  • Matthew Lipson, Energy Systems Catapult

The possible benefits of the ongoing digitization and enhancement of energy services with smart technologies has been extensively documented in the literature, but is there also scope for smart systems to lead to household conflicts? In this study, using data from the Energy Systems Catapult's Living Laboratory, we explore a fundamental energy service (heat) utilized in buildings from a novel angle: social conflict. We define social conflict as oppositional goals, aims, and values held by different people. We draw from three sets of primary data—diary studies and blogging via mobile ethnography, telephone interviews, and household interviews—involving 100 homes across Birmingham (West Midlands), Bridgend (Wales), Manchester (Greater Manchester), and Newcastle (Northumberland) in the United Kingdom. We identify five different forms of “thermal conflict”: parents versus children, hosts versus guests, roommates vs. each other, landlords vs. tenants, and couples vs. each other. After documenting the presence of 20 specific examples of conflict, we then discuss how they differ by location (intrinsic vs. extrinsic), type (preference, attitude, and variety) and values (hedonic, egoistic, altruistic, biospheric). We conclude with implications for energy and buildings research and policy more broadly, noting that thermal conflicts in the home differ in their location or cause. Moreover, thermal conflicts differ in their severity, with some occurring as more minor annoyances over preferences, but others relating attitudes, where heating actions or preferences become a proxy for something else, and emit strong feelings about how household members view another person as lazy, careless or wasteful. A variety of values remain attached to heating conflicts, with hedonic (self-comfort, self-pleasure), egoistic (saving money, control) and altruistic (helping others, making others comfortable) values almost evenly reflected across our examples.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101566
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

    Research areas

  • Big data, Energy practices, Heating and cooling, Living lab, Smart energy, Smart homes

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