Clothing and comfort during the pandemic and beyond
As part of a project on Heating and Comfort during the Covid-19 pandemic, funded as part of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), I am leading a work package that focuses on clothing and its relation to heating use. It asks what people wore during the winters of the pandemic, and what this might tell us about enduring changes as part of evolving comfort conventions.
It positions clothing as part of ‘personal comfort’ techniques, which achieve thermal comfort by focusing on warming or cooling the body, rather that the space in a building. As the project has progressed, a cost-of-energy crisis has become increasingly stark. This appears to be bringing a new interest in “heating the human” as a way to save energy. The research aims to take stock of comfort conventions at this intersection between crises.
Adding another layer? A future for clothing in heat demand reduction and decarbonisation
The challenge of decarbonising space heating is complex and urgent. Reducing demand for heating in homes, and elsewhere, could make an important contribution but tends to be overlooked. For instance, different forms of clothing allow lower indoor temperatures to feel comfortable. Whilst this seems obvious, clothing has become an implausible topic for carbon reduction policy. Research is also lacking. By imaginatively exploring futures of clothing-related reductions in heat demand and by reviewing current evidence, this project aims to inspire greater research and policy interest in clothing and greater recognition of its potential significance in the transition to low-carbon heating.
- How could clothing contribute towards reducing demand for space heating, particularly as part of carbon reduction policy?
- What do we currently know about how different styles of clothing affect the demand for space heating, for instance temperature variations between homes?
- Can imagining future scenarios help to clarify knowledge gaps and inspire greater interest in the potential of clothing?
- What role could the fashion & clothing industry play?
- What are the limitations and challenges of focusing on clothing in order to reduce heat demand?
The project is funded by the CREDS Flexible Fund: Early Career Researcher Call.
Changing Use of the Internet at Home: Important global implications for energy demand
This project was part of the DEMAND Centre research programme and was designed to better understand an area of significant energy consumption undergoing ‘rapid’ contemporary change: the use of IT within the home. Whilst most households in the UK, as in many other developed countries, have had broadband internet access for over a decade, the nature of internet use continues to change. This is evident in the types of devices used to access the internet and their levels of ownership: shifting from 1 or 2 desktop PCs per household, to multiple, individually owned and mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. At the same time, levels of internet traffic to and from households has boomed.
These changes have implications for the energy consumed at home and globally across the internet. Digital consumer electronics, including TVs (which are increasingly connected to the internet) consume a significant share of non-heating-related electricity in UK homes (about 35% in 2015, according to official government statistics). Whilst growth in the electricity used by internet-connected, and other information, technologies within the home has abated in recent years, the electricity consumed by the internet beyond the home continues to grow.
The project asked: what is the role of everyday household practices in these trends? This lead us to ask how use of the internet at home is changing, and how that, in turn, relates to the internet infrastructures (data centres and distribution networks) on which this depends. In 2016, a household study was undertaken with 28 households in the UK. It involved a mixed-method design that included single interviews, diary-interviews, surveys, home tours and socket-electricity metering, across sub-groups within a sample that included households with and without access to superfast broadband connections.
Overall, the study reveals how the growth in household internet traffic is enabled by domestic practices, but accelerated by the design of online services, which are becoming more data-intensive and dependent on automated data flows, often invisibly and in the background. In particular, it highlights the role of TV watching. Whilst still far from universal or even dominant, there are many signs of a shift towards accessing TV content over the internet, through streaming or on-demand services. This is hugely significant for internet traffic; and suggests that communications and broadcasting policies could have important roles to play – both in creating but also managing the electricity demand generated across internet infrastructures and in the home.