Project Proposal

Research Protocol

Title: ‘Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Demand Reduction’

Chief Investigator: Professor Karen Henwood

Research Team: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Catherine Butler, Dr Karen Parkhill, Dr Fiona Shirani


Energy demand reduction bears upon multiple long-term national policy goals, including low carbon transitions, energy security and affordability, and mitigating environmental impacts. Significant reductions in energy use will be essential – in the home, transportation and across business – if these aims are to be attained (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2009).

Recent work from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC, 2009) indicates that lifestyle change could contribute 30% in greenhouse gas emissions cuts against baseline in the UK by 2050, while in the USA similar analyses point to the potential for very significant reductions in household energy use through changes to behaviour (Dietz et al., 2009). However, there are well known complexities in achieving such changes including the difficulty people have in connecting their everyday activities with environmental impacts, the invisibility of energy use in everyday life, and ‘lock-in’ to unsustainable systems of energy practice, lifestyles and identities.

This research will contribute to current theory, methodology and practice by building a conceptual and analytic approach that examines people’s energy behaviour and practices as dynamic biographical processes: that is, as emergent, contingent, and unfolding in and through space and time.

Our energy practices do not exist in isolation but are established across multiple spaces such as home, transport and work, and through a complex interplay between our own personal histories, where we come to make investments in using more or less energy intensive services, and the wider social and technical developments of particular energy systems.

Building from the established understanding that people do not use energy, but rather the services made possible by energy, we adopt a holistic approach that brings into view the formation, embeddedness and development of energy practices as part of everyday life and the life-course.

We use the term “energy biographies” to represent this approach, which offers the possibility to develop understanding of how significant reductions in energy use can be achieved through identifying openings for change in energy intensive life-course trajectories.


  • To contribute to theory and understanding of energy use in the everyday, through comparison of people’s different energy biographies across a range of social settings from the niche to the mainstream.
  • To examine how existing demand reduction interventions interact with people’s personal histories and biographies, with a view to identifying opportunities for change and policy development.
  • To develop improved understanding of which different community configurations can provide a strong basis for transitions in everyday energy consumption and practices when framed around people’s biographies.
  • To explore the utility of innovative (narrative, longitudinal and visual) methodological approaches for engaging people with their own energy practices.

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