Consumers to be encouraged to wield their power on the electricity market

Dec 03, 2010 | Research/Cooperation

Record-breaking prices for electricity have become more and more common during cold spells in winter. But what does it take for consumers to be willing to adapt their use of electricity to the supply? That’s what researchers at Mälardalen University are going to investigate in a large-scale project that received 5.5 million Swedish kronor (about €600,000) in funding from the Swedish Energy Agency.

- Within the energy sector, it is believed that consumers will play an ever more important role when it comes to reaching climate-related goals. If there is no wind one day and people’s normal electricity supply comes from wind power, more and more of them will reduce consumption rather than get their need for electricity fulfilled by other means. In this way, both money and the environment are saved.

That’s what Fredrik Wallin thinks, a researcher in energy engineering at Mälardalen University, which hosts the recently initiated three-year research project “Increased consumer power on the Nordic electricity market”. Together with other researchers from energy studies and mathematics, he is to carry out comprehensive investigations about consumer behaviour on the electricity market. At present, the research group is looking for partners at energy companies across Sweden. The idea is to have 3-5000 customers participate in so-called “energy role-playing games”, which means that they have to take a stance on realistic scenarios based on their everyday lives.

- It could be about getting a text message with the request to lower one’s consumption of electricity between 8 and 9 in the morning since it’s going to be a cold day without sun and an ensuing shortage of power, says Fredrik, who would then, with the help of data from the energy companies, check whether the request had any effect on the use of electricity that day.
There will also be interactive studies in controlled environments, where participants on the electricity market gather in small groups to test how different decisions impact on prices and the supply of electricity.

- We want to find out what the factors are that actually make people reduce their power consumption – a choice consumers have much to gain from on days when the “usual” power supply is running short, Fredrik Wallin points out.

He personally thinks that the price of electricity plays a big role in the context:

- The more money you save by, for example, not running your washing machine or dishwasher on a particularly chilly winter’s day, the bigger the incentive to adapt your power consumption.