What is POWBAL?

As technologies continue to enhance our everyday lives, we are ever more reliant on electricity. As a result, ensuring we have reliable and clean electricity generation systems in the UK has become an important and challenging goal. One component of the solution is to make our electricity demand more flexible: if we can shift usage that is not time sensitive to times when the wind blows and the sun shines, supplying us with abundant clean energy, it will be cheaper to produce more electricity from such renewable resources. But how do we decide what is time sensitive and how do we shift usage?

Which electricity usage is time sensitive will vary from person to person. With the POWBAL project, we are beginning to understand which electricity usage households consider to be time sensitive and when electricity usage is more flexible.

Participants in POWBAL are provided a free smart plug which can be controlled and monitored remotely via the internet. We ask you to use this plug for electricity consumption that you deem non-time-sensitive (some examples are provided in the table below). For instance, you could use it to power devices with battery backup (e.g. laptops).

We will use the plug to measure the amount of time-flexible electricity consumption at various times, which allows us to form an understanding of the potential for shifting usage to times when the UK experiences an abundance of power from renewable sources. We do so by switching off the plug from time to time for brief intervals (which may also help you to save a little on your energy bills). If you do not override these switch-off events, that will show us that whatever you have connected to the plug is indeed not time-sensitive at that particular time. It is important to note that you will always be able to override such a switch-off event either manually via a button on the plug, via the online interface, or via the POWBAL app.

What happens once I sign up?

Once you have consented to participate, please feel free to connect your smart plug to any appliance of your choosing, as you would a travel converter. As mentioned above, this will allow us to measure the amount of energy consumption that is not time-sensitive at various times, giving us insight into the flexibility of energy consumers’ elictricity usage.

How long should I participate?

If you are participating in a research study related to POWBAL, study length will vary depending on when you’ve signed up and your particular circumstances. For instance, if you live in a student hall where the plugs are inventoried, your participation will end when you move out of the residence and leave your plug for the next resident to use. For most participants the study will last for a maximum of 12 months, though you may choose to withdraw your participation at any time and may be able to extend participation if you wish to do so, particularly if you plan to continue to use your plug in your new residence in the UK (we simply ask that you please email us if this applies to you).

What are the benefits of participation?

In addition to the energy savings and the free smart plug, we will hold regularly scheduled raffles of Tango Card vouchers every two weeks.

Rewards: Rewards come in the form of Tango Card vouchers, which are currently redeemable in the UK to Amazon, Argos, Caffe Nero, Debenhams, Decathlon, Google Play, Halfords, iTunes, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, New Look, Nike, Pizza Express, Starbucks, Steam Wallet, Tesco, The Great British Pub (i.e. all participating UK pubs), Ticketmaster, TK Maxx, Uber, and Zalanda.

Raffle procedure: The rewards distributed depend on the number of participants signed up to POWBAL, where rewards increase with the number of participants[^1]. For instance, if 250 participants take part in a given year, we would give away approximately £5000 worth of Tango vouchers. In this way, we ensure that more participation does not disadvantage any individual participant. The raffles for these vouchers will be conducted every two weeks. Winners receive vouchers by email.

Which electronic or appliance should I plug in via my POWBAL plug?

Consuming more power via the smart plug, by plugging your most energy-consuming time-flexible devices into the smart plug (examples below) increases your chances of winning vouchers.

Appliance or ElectronicConsumption LevelAnnual Energy UsePotential Risks*
Refrigerator (modern Energy Star - decades old fridge/freezer)High350 - 2000 kWhNone
Television (LCD - old Plasma)Medium - High240-400 kWhNone
Laptop chargerMedium130-175 kWhNone
ToasterLow85 kWhNone
Television LED / Computer screenLow55 kWhNone
Television (off, i.e. on standby)Low22kWhNone
Hair electronicsLow11 kWhNone
* apart from turning off while in use

Beyond making a little extra cash, through your participation, the team behind POWBAL will be able to learn more about enhancing energy efficiency in our community, helping you and those around you to save money while contributing to environmental improvements both locally and globally.

What do I do if my plug is not online?

If your plug is not online, please make sure that (i) it is connected to a socket that is switched on, and (ii) the wifi signal is strong enough near your plug (e.g., by connecting your phone or laptop to the wifi network and checking the strength near your plug).

What about privacy?

All data obtained from participants will be kept confidential and will only be reported in an aggregated and anonymised format. All questionnaires will be concealed, and no one other than the investigators and assistant researchers will have access to them. The data collected will be stored in a secure database. The primary purpose of the data collection is academic research, and all data collection and storage is in compliance with GDPR regulation.

Are there any risks to my involvement in POWBAL?

We do not expect any risks or discomforts to arise from participation in POWBAL. However, you can contact us any time at powbal@imperial.ac.uk if you experience any issues. This email address will be monitored daily.

Can I withdraw my participation if I change my mind?

Participation is completely voluntary, and you have a right to withdraw your participation at any time (or refuse to participate entirely), without penalty or consequences. If you choose to withdraw, you will be asked whether we can use your already collected energy usage data. If you confirm, we will include the data to continue to enhance our understanding of energy demand flexibility. Should you choose to withdraw your consent, we will delete your data from our files and permanently delete your consent form.

Will someone be available to help if I have questions or concerns during my participation in POWBAL?

Yes. You can contact us any time at powbal@imperial.ac.uk. If necessary, a member of the project team may be available to meet with you to discuss issues and concerns, as well.

Ralf Martin
Ralf Martin
Professor of Economics