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Mike Fell

Research Subject

Thesis Title: Taking Charge: Perceived control and acceptability of domestic demand-side response

Domestic electricity demand-side response (DSR) programmes aim to influence when electricity is used in people’s homes, the better to balance it with supply. In the UK, this is important in permitting anticipated increases in electricity use that growth in electric heating and vehicles will bring, as well as greater penetration of intermittent (low-carbon) forms of supply such as wind energy.

Demand can be managed by alerting consumers to periods of high demand (through price signals or other means) in the hope that they will shift their demand to other times, or by directly controlling services such as heating/cooling and appliances such as fridges in people’s homes. However, research has indicated that some people have concerns about the possible reductions in their personal control that they perceive such approaches could entail. These concerns may lead to lower participation, less opportunity to match demand to supply, and constrain the transition to a low-carbon energy system.
Studies into people’s acceptance of DSR have tended not to rigorously define “control” or to explore it in detail with participants. While it is clear that some consumers are worried about losing it, it isn’t clear:

  • what precisely they are worried about losing control over,
  • why they perceive this as a problem,
  • which aspects or antecedents of control (e.g. trust, choice, knowledge, usability, etc.) in particular are leading them to be concerned (and why),
  • if and how this differs significantly between groups of people (and why), and
  • what could be done to lessen their concern, or give them less reason to be concerned in the first place.

Improving our understanding in these areas should make it possible to design, target and communicate DSR programmes in such a way as to minimize people’s concerns about any perceived reduction in control, and therefore maximize the likelihood of participation (at least in respect of control). The project employs a mixed methods approach to answer these questions. A series of exploratory focus groups were used to inform a survey experiment which was carried out during the course of 2014. Further qualitative research was conducted in 2015. Please see the ‘publications’ page for results as they are published.


My current research is focused on people's perceived control in the context of domestic electricity demand-side response. Other research interests include energy feedback and energy education. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss this work or any of the other activities below.

I have a keen interest in research/policy engagement, and regularly organize events bringing academics and policymakers together. From March to June 2013 I undertook a POST/EPSRC Fellowship in the House of Commons Library, briefing Members of Parliament on subjects in science and the environment.

I think public engagement with academic research is really important. In 2013 I won funding to support a series of workshops in a north London school to promote school gardens. I've also done stand-up comedy at the Bright Club comedy club in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe and Green Man festivals. In 2014 I was a mentor on the UK ArtScience Prize programme, and in 2015 I was an expert speaker at Donmar Warehouse theatre's The Tomorrow Project which focused on the future of energy.

Together with colleagues I set up and coordinate the UCL-Energy Social Sciences Group which aims to bring together researchers across UCL with an interest in people and energy.

From 2007 to 2011, when I joined the London-Loughborough Centre, I was the energy commissioning editor at Earthscan (a leading publisher of books and journals in sustainability). I worked on a wide variety of book projects in the fields of renewable energy, energy demand and sustainable architecture and also collaborated with organizations like the International Energy Agency and the United Nations to help publish the results of their research.

Publications and Other Work

Refereed articles

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Huebner G. M. and C. Elwell (accepted for publication). "Public acceptability of domestic demand-side response: the role of automation and direct load control". Energy Research & Social Science.

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Huebner G. M. and C. Elwell, 2015. "Knowing Me, Knowing You: The role of trust, locus of control and privacy concern in acceptance of domestic electricity demand-side response". eceee 2015 Summer Study on energy efficiency, Presqu’île de Giens, France, 1-5 June 2015.

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Huebner G. M. and C. Elwell, 2014. "Exploring perceived control in domestic electricity demand-side response" Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 26(10): 1118-1130.

Fell, M. J., and L. F. Chiu, 2014. “Children, Parents and Home Energy Use: Exploring Motivations and Limits to Energy Demand Reduction” Energy Policy 65 (February 2014): 351–358.

Other (reports/conference papers/presentations/posters)

Fell, M. J., Nicolson, M., Huebner, G. M. and D. Shipworth, 2015. "Is it time? Consumers and time of use tariffs" Report to Smart Energy GB. UCL Energy Institute, London, UK.

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Elwell, C. and G. M. Huebner, 2014. "Measuring people's perceived control in domestic demand-side response: scale development", Behave Energy Conference 2014, Oxford, UK.

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Elwell, C. and G. M. Huebner, 2014. "Out of Control, Out of the Question? Views on perceived control in domestic demand side response", 2nd Energy and Society Conference, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland.

Fell, M. J., Shipworth, D., Elwell, C. and G. M. Huebner, 2014. "Who Has The Power? Exploring perceived control in domestic demand side response", Smart Grids and the Social Sciences workshop, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim.

Fell, M. J., 2013. "Perceived personal control and energy demand side management", 19th Annual SPRU DPhil Day, University of Sussex.

Fell, M. J., 2013. "Who has the power?: Concepts of “control” in home energy use", Lancaster University Sociology Department’s Summer Conference, Lancaster University.

Fell, M. J., 2012. "What Role for Home Energy Monitors in Primary School Energy Education?", Agency Conference 2012, University of Cambridge.

Fell, M. J., 2012. "What Role for Home Energy Monitors in Primary School Energy Education? A Pilot Study (summary and initial results), Postgraduate symposium on household energy consumption, technology and efficiency, University of Birmingham.

House of Commons Library Standard Notes

I have contributed to publicly available Parliamentary briefing documents on the following subjects:

·         Food Banks and Food Poverty
·         Shale Gas and Fracking
·         Smart Meters
·         Nuclear Power
·         Thorium Energy