The University of Southampton

Pioneering research at Southampton is leading the way in the battle to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our environment by developing key tools for energy management that allow energy to be used more effectively and our carbon footprint to be reduced.

energy management that allow energy to be used more effectively and our carbon footprint to be reduced.
Research challenge

With growing greenhouse gas emissions, one of the world’s most pressing challenges is to explore ways of meeting the demand of today’s society while minimising the effect on the environment.

The University of Southampton has a strong history of exploring intelligent energy management and meeting the global challenge of developing ways to reduce energy use and thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Context

Globally the emissions of greenhouse gases are continually rising. Department of Energy and Climate Change findings showed that between 2011 and 2012 UK emissions of greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol rose by 3.5 per cent. This primarily resulted from greater use of coal for electricity generation at power stations and an increase in residential gas use. What impact will this upward spiral have on our environment and what will it mean for the future of the planet?

Our solution

Research at Southampton into the engineering of complex socio-technical systems has underpinned new technologies in intelligent energy management. The University’s Agents, Interaction and Complexity Group(AICG) has focused on developing tools to help educate users to defer use of electricity to off-peak times to ensure more efficient use of energy.

They have produced software agents that act on the behalf of humans with minimal intervention. Key findings of this research, run in conjunction with the University of Oxford, includes the development of software that uses local message-passing algorithms to allow agents to communicate with each other, solve complex problems involving uncertainty and employ processes to extend the use of independent agents in areas where resources are limited and continually shifting.

The team has also developed novel machine-learning algorithms to estimate and predict energy use both in the electricity-demand in the national grid and the thermal characteristics of buildings and homes. They have also designed a tool through which heating and electrical loads can be optimised allowing users to reduce energy and carbon emissions without impacting on their comfort.

What was the impact?

Southampton research is having a significant impact on both the economy and society. AICG research has developed a range of algorithms and technological strategies that have led to economic savings in energy expenditure and has contributed to the reduction of carbon emissions through work on smart meters that the government aims to have installed in 26m homes by 2020.

They have developed smartphone apps and websites that have helped private and industrial users reduce their costs and carbon emissions by supplying personalised data regarding their energy use. GridCarbon is an early smartphone app that monitors the UK electricity grid’s carbon intensity. It was the first smartphone app aimed at electricity distribution professionals to provide real time information on a national electricity grid. A trial of energy feedback systems based upon this approach at the UK branch of automotive and aerospace product supplier Federal Mogul saw a 20 per cent reduction in energy wastage and in 2013 the approach was rolled out across the whole factory with a view to extending it to other Federal Mogul sites.

Another of the team’s developments MyJoulo won first place in the British Gas Connecting Homes Startup Showcase and was named as the UK’s brightest home tech startup. MyJoulo is a free online energy advice system using intelligent algorithms to analyse data collected from an AICG-designed USB temperature logger. It builds a thermal model of the home and then calculates ways to reduce heating costs through a variety of interventions such as adjusting timer settings.

In its first four months MyJoulo provided advice to more than 750 private households and identified more than £50,000 in annual heating bill savings. MyJoulo research has now been commercialised into a spin-out company that is conducting trials with three UK energy companies.

The AICG is also working with charities such as the Centre for Sustainable Energy to enable them to provide energy-saving advice direct to households, and has collaborated with leading British companies including BAE Systems and SecureMeters to shape their research and development strategies.

Professor Alex Rogers
Find out more

Talk to our research team and find out more about this work. Professor Alex Rogers, of the Agents, Interaction and Complexity group led the research on this project.

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