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RCUK Centre for Energy Epidemiology

Energy Epidemiology Research Centre – Studying energy demand from transport and the built environment

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Developing a new path for energy demand research

UCL Energy Institute has been awarded one of six Centres of Excellence in End-Use Energy Demand by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The RCUK Centre for Energy Epidemiology will focus on providing an evidence base for government and industry to support end use energy reduction across buildings and transport, helping to deliver the UK's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

UCL-Energy has focused the RCUK end-use energy demand centre on an energy epidemiological approach that looks to re-interpret the health sciences research structure in order to found a robust research and analysis framework from which to address the pressing issues surrounding end-use energy demand.

Energy Epidemiology is the systematic use of measured data to illuminate the causes of energy use and of changes in energy use.  The approach has a long history in health research, but has not so far been applied, at scale, to the study of energy.

Energy Epidemiology has the capacity to transform the UK economy over the coming decades by providing empirical evidence on the impacts of energy policy and of investments in the whole of the UK's energy system – demand and supply.

UCL-Energy sees that the pre-requisites for the success of an epidemiological approach to energy research includes funding, developing and training of the next generation of energy scientists, the deliberate creation of environments capable of supporting an interdisciplinary research culture, a concerted effort to improving data collection and access, along with collaborative activities to share methods and insights.

UCL-Energy believes that a self-supporting, critical and creative system of science will emerge from the multi-disciplinary approach offered in Energy Epidemiology.  The newly funded RCUK Centre for Energy Epidemiology will provide a platform on which to build and apply this approach.

Energy epidemiology is a means to investigate causes and effects of key factors affecting energy demand within a population or subpopulations, which may relate to various scales from individuals and buildings to communities or building complexes.

Energy epidemiology takes into account the complex interactions between the physical and built environment, socio-economic characteristics, and individuals interactions and practices.

Energy epidemiology seeks to provide a description of the broader context and provide an environment within which individual studies can be contextualized and systematically assessed.

Energy research and its subject matter are comparable in complexity to health research. Epidemiology has been a key strand in health research since the mid 19th century, complementing the primarily bottom-up laboratory and case-based physiological approaches. In the light of the parallels – and we have been continuously surprised by how close these are - the core task of our Centre for Energy Epidemiology (one of 5 EPSRC-funded Energy End Use Demand Centres) will be to adapt the full range of experience of 150+ years of medical epidemiology to provide an overarching structure to Energy End Use Demand research, and to provide a stream of insight to guide policy formation and evaluation through a pivotal quinquennium.

The transfer of the epidemiological approach to energy demand is not a direct application but an adaption of those tools and methods that can best serve the study of the complex interactions between factors involving energy use practices and social structures, physical process, engineered systems and environmental factors that lead to an energy demand level outcome. However, in keeping with the basic approach (Coggon et al, 2003), the epidemiological study of energy demand must:

• Describe and measure the distributions of variable(s) of interest, e.g. energy demand per unit of observation

• Explain the distribution by its determinant factors: physical, environmental, social, behavioural and economic

• Support models that predict the changes expected in the distribution due to interventions, particularly energy efficiency and behavioural control measures

• Provide an evidence basis for informing policy related to the management of end-use energy demand.

Energy Epidemiology involves the systematic study of the distributions and patterns of energy use and their causes or influences in populations. It uses statistical association to impose top-down, theoretically parsimonious constraints on bottom-up science. It deals with the whole energy system and draws from detailed research of its sub-systems, focuses on outcomes such as reduced delivered energy or carbon emissions rather than intermediate performance indicators. It is interdisciplinary, facilitating and illuminating enquiry from the perspectives of economics and social science as well as physical processes and engineered systems. It will support the developments of technologies, changes in behaviour and policies and is action-oriented.

We propose that end-use energy demand research can re-interpret the health sciences research structure in order to found a robust research and analysis framework from which to address the pressing issues surrounding end-use energy demand. Energy Epidemiology addresses the need for robust empirical evidence whilst providing an environment that allows for interdisciplinary research for addressing the complex relationship between people, systems, environment, and energy demand.

What does this look like? We see the structure being interdependent, with findings from the various models being shared and built upon. Although the population-level ‘epidemiological model’ encompasses the other three models, this should not imply a hierarchy. Rather, it means to emphasize how an epidemiological approach uses theory, insights, understanding, aetiology and findings to drive forward the detection of patterns related to energy demand at the population level.

We see the structure of end-use energy demand includes at least three parts: end-use energy processes and systems (i.e. engineering and physical sciences), end-use energy practices (i.e. socio-behavioural interactions) and end-use energy context (i.e. population level studies of energy demand in context), shown in Figure 1 and described in Table 1.

CEE Epi Framework



Figure 1 – End-use energy demand research approach diagram

Table 1 – End-use energy demand research approach

Domain Features
End-use energy physical processes and systems

The physical systems (e.g. thermo/ fluid physics and engineered/ technological) devised for service demand, within a context.

Focus: To study the physical processes and technological systems and mechanisms that support the use of energy within a given context

End-use energy practices

The interactions of users with physical systems for a service, within a context.

Focus: To examine the motivations, values and reasons through which to interpret the relationship between physical mechanisms and social-cultural practices that contribute to the development of phenomena in energy demand

End-use energy context

The given context of both practices and physical processes and systems

Focus: To examine the structure and conditions of the physical processes and systems, socio- cultural practices in context with a wide range of factors that act on the complex energy demand structure

Energy epidemiology provides an over-arching approach for all the disciplines that impinge on energy demand are involved. Where findings from large-scale studies both inform energy policy development and evaluation while providing a context for conventional small-scale studies and insights for predictive models (Figure 2). Thus if a study identified that a particular construction practice is an issue for increased energy demand, its prevalence and impact may be estimated more rigorously in the stock, with the findings available to refine further research on the topic in large-scale studies. Energy epidemiology therefore provides a connecting structure that drives improvements in the empirical evidence base through the iterative cycle from policy development, small-scale research and investigation, and population or community level findings.

CEE Process


Figure 2 Energy epidemiology in practice and interaction with policy development and evaluation [Source: Summerfield and Hamilton, 2012]

The primary aim of Energy Epidemiology is to investigate causes and effects associated with the use of energy within defined sample. By relying on related sciences (such as sociology, physics, engineering, etc.) to describe mechanisms of an energy demand outcomes. Energy epidemiology considers the complex interactions between the physical and built environment, socio-economic features, and individual interactions and behaviours on energy demand. Energy epidemiology provides an approach that draws together existing expertise and salient research practices in an inter-disciplinary collaboration, to close the gap between theory and practice and to support purposeful intervention in the whole energy system.

UCL-Energy sees that the pre-requisites for the success of an epidemiological approach to energy research includes funding, developing and training of the next generation of energy scientists, the deliberate creation of environments capable of supporting an interdisciplinary research culture, a concerted effort to improving data collection and access, along with collaborative activities to share methods and insights.

UCL-Energy believes that a self-supporting, critical and creative system of science will emerge from the interdisciplinary approach offered in Energy Epidemiology. The newly funded EPSRC Centre for Energy Epidemiology will provide a platform on which to build and apply this approach.

Currently, within the UCL Energy Institute, the following projects are using the energy epidemiology approach or are developing empirical data frameworks on which to apply the approach.

  • Building a Low Carbon Future: a proposal

The papers and reports below are outputs related to CEE and the Energy Epidemiology concept.

Energy Epidemiology:

Hamilton, I. G., Summerfield, A. J., Lowe, R. J., Ruyssevelt, P., Elwell, C., & Oreszczyn, T. (2013). Energy epidemiology: a new approach to end-use energy demand research. Building Research & Information. doi:10.1080/09613218.2013.798142

Energy and Buildings:

Hamilton, I. G., Steadman, P. J., Bruhns, H., Summerfield, A. J., & Lowe, R. J. (2013). Energy efficiency in the British housing stock: energy demand and the Homes Energy Efficiency Database. Energy Policy. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.04.004

The UCL Energy Institute is in the process of establishing an International Energy Epidemiology Network that will share methodologies and analysis techniques, provide support in accessing data and data ethics, and undertake cross climate and cultural comparisons of energy behaviours and effectiveness of energy demand reduction policies.

UCL-Energy, in conjunction with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be holding the first International Energy Epidemiology Network Workshop on November 15-16 in Berkeley, CA.

The network is meeting to discuss how to bring together robust delivered energy data with data about the likely causes of the energy demand and applying data analysis and collection techniques similar to that applied to public health (health epidemiology).  We believe that through this approach we can obtain a much better understanding of how energy demand is changing in time and what the possible cause of these changes are.

The workshop will focus on sharing ideas and experiences through a series of workshops culminating in an international conference.

Aims of the Network

  1. To promote the use of epidemiological methods in the study of energy and environmental performance of buildings to complement more traditional research into physical building performance and energy end use demand as driven by socio-behavioural interaction between people and buildings.
  2. To support the transfer, adaptation and application of methods employed in epidemiological research in the field of medicine, and elsewhere, to research activities in the field of energy and environmental building performance.
  3. To identify, document and provide a central reference to past and current research work in this field.
  4. To identify the range of methods currently in use and develop, over time, a taxonomy of methods.
  5. To register and compare data sets and data types available in different countries and regions around the world.
  6. To examine the potential benefits of this field of research and demonstrate how these benefits compliment other those from other forms of research related to the energy and environmental performance of buildings.
  7. To test the application of this field research with policy makers, decision makers and various stakeholders.


Funding for this workshop has been kindly provided by the British Council in Atlanta.

If you are interested to join the network or require further details please contact the Director of the UCL Energy Institute, Professor Tadj Oreszczyn at t.oreszczyn@ucl.ac.uk.

Energy Modeling Forum